The year’s last major championship begins on Thursday, and what a finale it is shaping up to be.
In two days, the PGA Championship tees off at Whistling Straits and there are several storylines rife with intrigue. One involves the possibility of something special, another the reappearance of a giant and the remaining about players attempting to fight back to glory.
To keep you informed on all of the big happenings ahead of the PGA Championship, we give you the four most important storylines to follow this week:
Jordan Spieth goes for history
It was a tough finish for Spieth at the Open Championship, as a bogey on 17 and a sloppy par on the last hole left him one shot out of a playoff and a chance to come into Whistling Straits with a shot at the Grand Slam.
For Spieth, the tough ending is a part of the game — you can’t win them all in golf — but he’s clearly still using it as fuel in the meantime.
Whatever the case, the 22-year-old wunderkind has plenty to play for at Whistling Straits even if his Grand Slam dreams are dead.
If Spieth can capture the Wanamaker Trophy, he will become just the third player to ever win three professional majors in one year (Ben Hogan, 1953; Tiger Woods, 2000).
Moreover, if the American can post 13-under 275 or better at Whistling Straits (not an easy ask even if he does win), he will beat the all-time record of 1,095 strokes between four majors in one season (Woods, 2000). A first at the PGA would also give Spieth a 1-1-4-1 showing in the 2015 majors, versus Tiger’s 5-1-1-1.
The kid is already highly competitive; all of this should serve as more incentive to get the job done in Wisconsin and make more history as a 22-year-old.
Rory McIlroy returns, defends his crown
It’s been a bizarre week if you have been hitched to the McIlroy news cycle. The Washington Post goes through most of it, but the gist is that while his publicist shot down reports of a Whistling Straits practice round, the Northern Irishman incrementally gave out hints that he would return to the PGA until he finally declared on Monday.
McIlroy will indeed be teeing it up and swears by the stability of his injured left ankle. The 26-year-old said he’s played 90 holes of golf since his injury, and Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis said nothing looked out of the ordinary in McIlroy’s Saturday practice round. McIlroy further noted on Monday that his ankle is 100 percent to play golf this week and that there are no issues there with his swing or power.
That being said, McIlroy said his ankle 100 percent to play golf, not 100 percent healthy. Woods has already expressed concerns for McIlroy, and Notah Begay pointed out that this is a hilly golf course and that a couple of days of wear and tear may significantly worsen McIlroy’s ankle condition for the weekend.
It will be an interesting game to see just how little or much McIlroy’s ankle will hinder him.
But it’s also good to see the world No. 1 back trying to defend his PGA Championship title. And there’s the added intrigue of McIlroy attempting to fend off Spieth’s furious charge this year for his top world ranking.
If both McIlroy and Spieth can be in fine form at Whistling Straits, we’re in for a heck of a championship.
Dustin Johnson, others look for redemption, breakthrough
The good news for Johnson is that the bunker that sunk him in the 2010 PGA Championship won’t be in play this time around.
The bad: Five years after his epic gaffe, the long-bombing 31-year-old remains majorless.
This week is a chance for a Johnson double redemption. The first would be winning at the same place where grounding his club cost him a shot at a playoff in 2010. The second part involves his recent woes.
The 31-year-old has endured a difficult summer, with a three-putt from 12 feet to lose the U.S. Open on the 72nd green and an inexplicable 75-75 collapse at the Open Championship to fall from the midway lead to T49. Winning the PGA Championship would be the ultimate way to drown those disappointments.
It would be a great story, but let’s be clear: If Johnson fails to come through and/or falls apart when victory is near this week, it in no way determines his long-term status for winning majors. Johnson is super-talented and probably still several years from age-related decline. This week won’t determine whether or not he ever wins a major (or multiple ones).
As for other names, Jason Day will be looking to get past his penchant for major championship close calls and come through for his first victory. Sergio Garcia will forever remain a story for trying to capture that elusive major until he actually does the deed.
And we have the English quarter of Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. Their stories are under the radar — with Donald and Westwood declining in recent years and Poulter only proving a world-beater in match play thus far — but if any heavily contend, the tale of one of these guys becoming an English major champion will once again be of full interest to their home nation.
Tiger Woods is still a mystery
It has come to the point, at least for now, where fans get excited over Woods making it to the weekend and not completely imploding. That appeared to be the case when he finished T32 at the Greenbrier last month and T18 at the Quicken Loans National (his own event) two weeks ago.
To be fair, both performances were far ahead of the abysmal showings he produced at the U.S. Open and Open Championship. They are also eons away from the all-around fiascos at the Hero World Challenge and Phoenix Open at the beginning of the season.
Regardless, Woods enters the 2015 PGA Championship far from the form he showed in his prime years or even the 2012-13 Sean Foley seasons.
The rumor that Woods had fired swing consultant Chris Como has died down for now, but recall that Woods did start up with a new coach (Foley) the last time the PGA came to Whistling Straits.
It’ll be interesting to see what Woods can put together this week. His record at this course isn’t great (T24 and T28 in two starts, albeit both during career lulls), and while he has said there’s plenty of room off the tees at Whistling Straits, to be honest the fairways aren’t that wide and missing them is penal. Excepting 2012 and 2013, driving accuracy has not been a forte of Tiger’s over the last decade, so this continues to be a poor course for him.
Don’t expect Woods to win or massively contend then this week, but don’t be surprised by any result outside that realm.
It’s really tough to tell where Woods is at the moment. He says things are starting to come together and he sees a lot of progress but Tiger is stubborn and has never been willing to admit he’s lost or far off. Case in point: He essentially blamed his equipment for a poor Open Championship, which he later admitted he was incorrect on.
It’s still impossible to correctly interpret just how far along Woods is with his swing changes, whether they are smart in the first place and how close he is to consistently contending again. All of the questions surrounding Woods are as massive as ever going into the PGA and will be a doozy to continue to unravel.