In less than a week, an absolutely captivating 2017 major championship season will conclude. While the prospect of no more majors for eight months is certainly worthy of melancholy, the incredible 75% of the season that has been completed provides great hope and promise that the 2017 finale will be just as unforgettable.
This year’s PGA Championship, set to tee off on Thursday at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club, is composed of the usual elite field, with nearly everyone healthy and motivated to add to their legacy.
A lot of the attention will be focused on golf’s biggest superstar, Jordan Spieth, who will be attempting to become the youngest player to ever win the career Grand Slam. Coming off an unbelievable final stretch in an Open Championship triumph, more fireworks seem likely for the redoubtable Spieth, who just turned 24 one week ago, but he is far from being the only mesmerizing talent in the field.
Spieth himself, in his typical unwavering modesty, singled out two-time PGA Champion Rory McIlroy as the favorite. Rory has recently broken from an uncharacteristic mid-season slump, which is harrowing news for his competitors, especially when considering both his track record in this tournament, and his downright dominant history at Quail Hollow.
Then there is Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm, Jason Day, Phil Mickelson… the list goes on and on. All we know, is that whoever does capture the Wanamaker Trophy is going to have to earn it, as this has the makings of a classic “blood, sweat, and tears” type tournament.
Today’s PGA Championship can be credited to the work of business mogul Rodman Wanamaker 101 years ago in New York City, who gathered a collection of golf professionals, which led to the formation of the PGA.
The PGA’s first championship was held in October of that year (2016), and was won by a man named Jim Barnes. It started as a stroke-play event, with Barnes being awarded $500, a gold medal, and the original Wanamaker Trophy. The tournament would continue to evolve, and in 1958, it made a permanent switch to stroke play.
Notable winners of the Wanamaker Trophy include Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Raymond Floyd, Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson.
Hagen and Nicklaus share the record for most PGA Championships with five apiece. Two surprising names missing from the winner’s list are Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson, who had close calls, but were never able to claim victory.
This year’s tournament host is Quail Hollow Club, a lengthy George Cobb design, with Arnold Palmer and Tom Fazio re-designs. While this will be the first major held at Quail Hollow, it is a familiar course on Tour, as the annual venue of the Wells Fargo Championship.
That tournament was moved to a different course this year so the PGA could make Quail Hollow major-ready. It is expected to play much more difficult than it does when it hosts the Wells Fargo.
Name: Quail Hollow Club
Where: Charlotte, North Carolina
Distance: 7600 yards, par 71
Architect: George Cobb; Arnold Palmer and Tom Fazio redesign
Winning Share: $1,890,000
FedEx Cup Points: 600
The defending champion of the PGA Championship is Jimmy Walker. Going wire to wire, Walker won his first major championship, despite severe weather causing a 36-hole Sunday marathon with preferred lies and no pairing re-set.
Defending PGA Champion Jason Day put some late pressure on the 37-year-old Walker with an eagle on 18 one group ahead, but Walker was able to get up and down for a championship winning par.
7:45 AM Hideki Matsuyama, Ernie Els, Ian Poulter
8:05 AM Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed
8:15 AM Bubba Watson, Charl Schwartzel, Paul Casey
8:25 AM Sergio Garcia, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth
8:35 AM Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson
8:40 AM Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele, Rod Pampling
8:55 AM Zach Johnson, Lee Westwood, Charley Hoffman
1:05 PM Adam Scott, Luke Donald, Webb Simpson
1:25 PM Jimmy Walker, Phil Mickelson, Jason Dufner
1:35 PM Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler
1:40 PM Jonas Blixt, Steve Stricker, Brian Harman
1:45 PM Matt Kuchar, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker
TV & ONLINE COVERAGE
Round 1: 1:00-7:00 PM (TNT)
Round 2: 1:00-7:00 PM (TNT)
Round 3: 11:00 AM-2:00 PM (TNT); 2:00-7:00 PM (CBS)
Round 4: 11:00 AM-2:00 PM (TNT); 2:00-7:00 PM (CBS)
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STORYLINE 1: SPIETH SEEKS GRAND SLAM HISTORY
While the championship field at Quail Hollow has no shortage of Hollywood-caliber storylines, the one expected to garner the most attention, likely by far, is the run at Grand Slam History of 24-year-old superstar Jordan Spieth.
With a captivating triumph at The Open Championship just a few weeks ago, highlighted by a dauntless 13th hole birdie that galvanized one of the greatest closing stretches in major championship history, Spieth completed the third leg of the career Grand Slam.
With a follow-up victory at the PGA Championship, Spieth would forever be immortalized in the pantheon of all-time golfing greats, becoming just the sixth man to achieve the full slam, joining legends Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods.
While Spieth figures to have some 30+ chances to add the finishing leg of the career Grand Slam, he will only have one opportunity to accomplish the feat at a younger age than anyone ever has.
The current record-holder is Tiger Woods, who became the youngest Grand Slam winner in history when he demolished the field in an eight shot rout at the 2000 Open Championship. Tiger was 24 years, 6 months at the time. Spieth just turned 24 on July 27th.
If he wants to one-up Tiger, it has to be this year.
Spieth’s 2017 season has been spectacular. In addition to the recent win at Royal Birkdale, he also won the Travelers Championship in his prior start, and took the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am back in February. He has eight top 10s on the season, and leads the Tour in scoring average and birdie average.
A victory at last weekend’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational would have sent Spieth to Quail Hollow on a three-tournament win streak, but he settled for a respectable T13 finish that included an opening-round 67 and a final-round 68.
History is there for Spieth’s taking, and while he remains modest and humble about his feats and chances, it is no doubt an accomplishment he would cherish greatly.
STORYLINE 2: LAST CHANCE FOR FIRST MAJOR
Before Spieth won his third career major last month, major championships had been on a streak of seven consecutive first time winners.
While that statistic gives hope to many in the field, a sense of urgency is about to set in for those who have yet to experience the pinnacle of professional golf achievement, as the PGA Championship will be the last opportunity for major #1 until The Masters next April, more than seven months from now.
Sergio Garcia (The Masters) and Brooks Koepka (U.S. Open) have been the fortunate ones to end their 0-for major streaks in 2017. Will there be a third? Here are those in the field who stand the best chance:
Coming off a dominating victory at last weekend’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational that included a record-smashing final round 61, nobody is coming into Quail Hollow hotter than the 25-year-old from Japan.
The current FedEx Cup standings leader has three victories and three runner-ups this season, and finished in the top 14 of the first three majors, with a high of T2 at the U.S. Open.
If the 22-year-old Spaniard phenom, who is currently ranked 6th in the world, can keep his emotions in check, there is a good argument to be made that no golfer in the field is in a better position to win the PGA Championship than Rahm.
The Tour leader in strokes gained: off-the-tee has more than enough length to contend at Quail Hollow, and he has consistently proven that no field is too great for him. He has one win apiece on both the PGA and European Tours, along with six additional top 10 finishes.
His PGA results have been down since a T2 at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational in late May, but he was incredible tee-to-green at Firestone last weekend, as a 67-68 helped to offset a tough second-round 77. He finished T28.
The prohibitive “best player without a major,” the immensely-popular Fowler will be taking his latest shot at major No. 1 this week in Charlotte. He is in the midst of a tremendous season that includes eight top 10s in 16 events, with a victory at the Honda Classic among his four top 3 finishes.
Quail Hollow would be an appropriate major breakthrough for him, as the venue hosted his first career PGA Tour victory at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship.
The 39-year-old Georgia Tech product made his best major championship run at Royal Birkdale last month, leading the field with five holes to go on Sunday, before a Jordan Spieth explosion forced Kuchar to settle for runner-up.
The world No. 12 was also in the mix at The Masters, where he finished T4, and played mostly well in a T16 at the U.S. Open.
The 24-year-old bomber has three wins on the season, shot a 59 in Hawaii, and was immaculate in a record-setting nine-under 63 third round of the U.S. Open.
However, Thomas followed up that 63 with a 75 and has not been the same since, missing his next three cuts before a T28 at last week’s no-cut WGC event.
A strong weekend in Akron highlighted by a bogey-free final round 67 could be the catalyst that gets him back to early 2017 form.
Other majorless notables: Alex Noren, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Charley Hoffman,Thomas Pieters, Ian Poulter, and Lee Westwood.
STORYLINE 3: RORY’S PERFECT STORM
Nobody in the field has had this year’s PGA Championship circled on his calendar for longer than world No. 4 Rory McIlroy. Everything about this tournament is set up so perfectly for a Rory romp that even Jordan Spieth publicly acknowledged that McIlroy should be the favorite.
Saying that Rory likes Quail Hollow is an understatement tantamount to a claim that John Daly likes the good times.
Rory has been unbelievably good at Quail Hollow. His first career victory came in Charlotte at the Wells Fargo Championship, where Rory made the cut on the number, and then proceeded to blitz the field over the weekend, shooting 66-62 to win by four strokes over Phil Mickelson.
In 2015, Rory again took the Wells Fargo title at Quail Hollow, this time in a seven-stroke landslide. He also finished runner-up there in 2012, losing in a playoff to Rickie Fowler. This course is a perfect fit for Rory’s strengths, and playing the tournament as part of a major that he has twice won (2012, 2014), this appears to be a perfect storm for Rory.
That all being said, a Rory triumph is far from a foregone conclusion. He may have an incredible history at the host course, but the Quail Hollow players will see this week should be vastly different from the Quail Hollow they see at the annual Wells Fargo Championship.
That tournament was even moved to a different course this year, so the PGA could work on making Quail Hollow a dastardly challenge.
Rory’s current form is also in question. He has struggled badly at times coming back from an early-season rib injury, particularly at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, another course thought to be Rory-perfect, where he missed the cut by a mile.
For a while midseason, his putting yips became a punchline. He even fired his longtime caddy just a week ago, although details have been slow to surface.
It has not been all bad as of late, though. He rebounded from being +5 through six holes at The Open Championship to finish T4, although he was never really in contention.
In his subsequent start, last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Rory finished T5, posting four straight sub-70 rounds at one of the toughest courses on Tour. Nobody quite knows where his game is at right now, but he has as much reason as anyone in the field to be confident.
STORYLINE 4: JIMMY WALKER DEFENDS
For two rounds in Akron last week, the title defense of Jimmy Walker looked like it might become a much bigger story than it now is. A 68-65 start put Walker into the 36-hole lead at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a spark from a player who has mostly been a dud this year.
The 38-year-old put together an inspired effort at Baltrusol last year, but has been unable to follow it up with anything significant.
In 19 starts in the 2017 season, Walker has just one top 10, a T9 at the 32-man SBS Tournament of Champions in early January, although his results had been trending mildly upwards recently with two T18s and a T13 among his last eight starts.
A win, or at least a strong finish at the WGC-Bridgestone could have set his season straight at a favorable time, as has happened much of the year, Walker was unable to hold onto the momentum he had accumulated, shooting 74-72 on the weekend to drop six shots to 1-under and a tie for 28th place.
While a paucity of quality results is no doubt frustrating to Walker, it is also forgivable. The University of Baylor product has spent the entire season dealing with the deleterious effects of Lyme Disease, which he was diagnosed with in April. Illness-induced fatigue has made the season more of a grind, and while he has dealt admirably, there is only so much his body will let him do.
The start in Akron was promising, and while he has the length and experience to compete again this year, a successful title defense is likely asking too much.
OTHER NOTABLES IN THE FIELD
After three early-season wins, the world #1 looked ready to cruise to a second straight PGA Tour Player of the Year award, but DJ has struggled to find his elite form since his freak back injury on Masters Eve.
If POTY voting was held right now, he would be fortunate to finish third after Spieth and Matsuyama. He recently admitted that the back injury is still an issue.
Nobody has been better in the majors this season than Koepka, who won the U.S. Open, finished T11 at The Masters, and contended for three days at The Open Championship before finishing T6.
Koepka is both one of the most powerful players on Tour and one of the best putters, a great combination for majors.
Sergio had an enormous weight lifted from his shoulders when he prevailed in a playoff at The Masters in April. He has nothing better than a T12 on the PGA Tour since, although he did finish T2 at the European Tour’s BMW International Open.
The 37-year-old has 23 top 10s in majors, but only three at the PGA Championship, and none since 2008.
It has been a puzzling year for the 2015 PGA Champion and 2016 runner-up, who has just two top 10s in 2017. He has shown some signs of life as of late, however.
He played well at Royal Birkdale, aside from an abysmal three-hole stretch at the end of round two, and had a second-round 66 last week at the WGC-Bridgestone.
The 41-year-old from Sweden was incredible in 2016, winning The Open Championship and a silver medal at The Olympics. This season has been a different story, though, as he has been flipping between missed cuts and finishes on the periphery of the top 15.
He played well in his Open Championship defense, finishing T11 at Royal Birkdale and has looked much better lately than he did earlier in the year.
The 2016 Olympic Gold Medal winner has barely been seen on leaderboards since his playoff loss to Sergio Garcia at The Masters. He followed up a surprising missed cut at the U.S. Open with a disappointing T54 at The Open Championship, and was T63 in last week’s WGC event.
Still, with his experience and skillset, he cannot be counted out of any major.
Already successful in Europe, the young Englishman made himself known in the U.S. when he contended at the U.S. Open, playing in the final group on Sunday and finishing solo-4th.
He fell short of high expectations at The Open Championship, but did rebound nicely in finishing T27 after an opening round 6-over 76. He is among the most accurate in the world off the tees, and leads the European Tour in greens in regulation.
The 2005 PGA Champion has made an impressive 17 of 18 cuts this season, but that missed cut was at The Open Championship after a 73-77 start.
Phil has struggled to put four quality rounds together since parting ways with longtime caddy Jim Mackay, but he is a five-time major winner and has historically played well at Quail Hollow. A second PGA title would not surprise anyone.
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