Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 July 2019

Tiger Woods in the spotlight as Rory McIlroy aims to end major drought: 2019 PGA Championship talking points

The season's second major tees off on Thursday at Bethpage Black in New York. We look at some of the main talking points heading into the event.

Tiger Woods puts in the work on the driving range ahead of the 2019 PGA Championship. EPA
Tiger Woods puts in the work on the driving range ahead of the 2019 PGA Championship. EPA

Tiger tracking headlines… again

Where else to start? Tiger Woods tees it up competitively for the first time since last month's incredible Masters triumph, and the 36 days that separate slipping into the Green Jacket and sliding onto the first tee on Thursday have done little to quell the noise around the American.

Woods has gone major to major without anything in between seven times previously, most famously rocking up at the 2008 US Open with a broken leg and still winning.

Understandably, Augusta took its toll, so he returns rested, recuperated and undeniably recharged, both from the time away and his Masters moment. With a first major win in 11 years and eyes on a 16th overall, Woods seems sure to figure predominantly - irrespective of how he fares.

What is more, he captured the 2002 US Open at Bethpage Black. Still, successive victories should prove too much, especially given the treacherous rough this week and Tiger’s tendency to err off the tee. But, then again, it is Woods.

McIlroy’s major drought

Rory McIlroy is aiming for his third PGA Championship and fifth major overall. AP Photo
Rory McIlroy is aiming for his third PGA Championship and fifth major overall. AP Photo

OK, so life for Rory McIlroy appears pretty good right now. Last week, he was named Britain’s wealthiest sport star for the second successive year, having accrued a fortune reportedly worth £138 million (Dh654.4m).

On the course, he has enjoyed his most consistent start to a season, with seven top 10s and victory at the illustrious Players Championship, from 10 outings. And, remember, McIlroy is a four-time major champion already, despite celebrating only his 30th birthday, on May 4.

However, the last "big one" came in 2014, a winless run that now spans 15 majors. Arguably the most naturally talented golfer besides Woods, McIlroy feels sometimes like he’s mired in the mechanics of his golf swing, or his putting stroke.

Two of his four majors have come at this tournament, though, and his ability to hit the ball long and straight off the tee plays perfectly into his hands at Bethpage Black. The wet conditions could go some way to ending McIlroy’s major drought.

Brooks back-to-back, back-to-back?

Brooks Koepka is aiming to win to defend the PGA Championship title. AP Photo
Brooks Koepka is aiming to win to defend the PGA Championship title. AP Photo

As he is wont to do, Brooks Koepka caused a little controversy this week. He said majors aren’t actually that difficult to win. Or at least, easier than regular PGA Tour events.

All said, Koepka is coming at it from a pretty sturdy position of authority. Of his past seven starts in majors, he has won three. Last time out, at Augusta, he finished runner-up. Go back to last year, and he successfully defended the US Open.

This week, Koepka is attempting to become the only player bar Woods to retain the Wanamaker Trophy in stroke-play format. And he clearly revels in the tournament set-up, having not finished outside the top 15 in his past five US PGAs. Kopek said also that he believes he can get to double-digits in major crowns.

Only three others have done that: Jack Nicklaus, Woods and Walter Hagan. However that may come across, you can’t knock his confidence.

Spieth struggling for Grand Slam bam

Jordan Spieth could complete the career Grand Slam at the PGA Championship but given his slump in form, it looks unlikely. Reuters
Jordan Spieth could complete the career Grand Slam at the PGA Championship but given his slump in form, it looks unlikely. Reuters

After seizing the 2017 British Open in stunning fashion, Jordan Spieth was three-quarters of the way to the career Grand Slam. Outlasted Matt Kuchar at Royal Birkdale, he became the second player in history after Nicklaus to win three of the four majors before his 24th birthday.

A couple of months out from turning 26, Spieth hasn’t clinched another title - of any kind. This season, the American is yet to card a top-20 finish from 14 events. He was 21st at Augusta, despite the win and three other top-threes from five previous appearances.

A former world No 1, he ranks currently at 39th. Spieth sits outside the top 200 in strokes-gained-driving, a damning statistic, particularly ahead of Bethpage, while his previously imperious putting is only recently displaying signs of recovery.

Only five players have completed the Grand Slam; no one since Woods in 2000. Given Spieth’s slump, that looks likely to continue through to 2020.

New date, new beginning?

The famous sign on the first tee at Bethpage Black Course - the host of the 2019 PGA Championship. AP Photo
The famous sign on the first tee at Bethpage Black Course - the host of the 2019 PGA Championship. AP Photo

The US PGA Championship has long been considered the game’s fourth major, both in terms of date and impact. “Glory’s Last Shot,” blurted its tagline. Even then, it did not have the lustre of the Masters, or the legacy of the British Open. Nor could it claim to be golf’s toughest test, like the US Open.

However, a revamp to the PGA Tour season has pulled forward the tournament to Spring. So, for the first time in 70 years, the PGA Championship will be played in May. As such, the cooler temperatures and wetter conditions earlier this week meant beanies were preferred to baseball caps.

Bethpage Black represents a formidable but fair test, its infamous first-tee sign reading: "The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend for highly skilled golfers."

No doubt, the tournament will benefit from its new position on the calendar. It can ride on the Masters momentum, especially pertinent this year given the hullabaloo surrounding Woods.

Updated: May 15, 2019 03:01 PM

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