Valhalla Golf Club is the location for the last major of the season, the 96th PGA Championship. It will be the third time the Louisville, Kentucky course will host this particular major. It held the tournament in 1996 and 2000, with both tournaments needing a playoff to determine the winner.
Will McIlroy continue his momentum at Valhalla?
Rory McIlroy is the clear favourite coming into this tournament. His fine form at Hoylake in July helped him capture The Open title, the third major of his career. He followed that up with a fantastic performance at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational last weekend, opening his final round with four birdies on the first five holes to snatch the lead from Sergio Garcia and ultimately, take the title at Firestone.
With his form indisputable, the Holywood man will be looking to hit accurately off the tee on a course that will not be nice to wayward shots. In his PGATour.com preview of the Valhalla course, Mark Immelman suggested accuracy was the key when teeing off; “I believe that the really low scores will come from the guy who plays from the fairway. Players who miss the fairways in the correct spots should still be able to score but I believe that the long and accurate driver will have an advantage. So time spent on tightening up the accuracy with the driver will prove advantageous and I would highly recommend it.” McIlroy should take note of this. His season’s Driving Accuracy Percentage is 59.74%, leaving him in 116th in the stat ranking.
The new World Number 1 has stated that he is in the best form of his life and he will be hoping to become the first player to claim back to back majors in six years. To win at Valhalla would be no mean feat for the Northern Irishman. It’s tough enough to win back-to-back titles in the space of a month but to win 3 in a row will be something special and in this age of golf (with a list of world class players) it could be one of the most significant streaks in the history of the sport. Then again leave it to the Irish to make something special (just ask Pádraig Harrington).
Never settle for being second best when you know you deserve to be first
That’s a saying that no doubt sums up Sergio Garcia presently. For the second tournament in a matter of weeks, Garcia played second fiddle to his fellow European. Last weekend, he dominated the first three rounds and fell flat on the fourth, a round that nearly cost him more than just the title. A wayward shot on the third, hit the engagement ring of a female spectator and sent the diamond loose into the long grass.
Garcia is probably the name that tops most journalists’ list of “Best player to never win a major,” a list Sergio will be hoping to come off of this weekend. He has all the attributes to win here at Valhalla. He also has the experience of playing at the Louisville course, as part of the ill-fated European team at the 2008 Ryder Cup and at this tournament in 2000 where he finished tied 34th.
However, hearing him talk about the course would make one question his confidence. “I’m not going to lie to you. It’s not my favourite golf course in the world,” claimed Garcia ahead of the Bridgestone Invitational. If he wants to be in contention for the title, Garcia needs to forget about the past and concentrate on the challenge ahead. With Driving Accuracy Percentage at 63.95% and 70.11% Greens in Regulation Percentage, Garcia can make a substantial challenge to win his first major.
Tiger’s season in doubt
It was the sight that nobody was hoping to see, Tiger Woods crouching over with an expression of agony. After three months out of action due to back surgery, the unbelievable happened – Tiger withdrew from the Bridgestone Invitational with a back injury. At the time of writing, the former World Number 1 has not ruled himself out of this weekend’s tournament.
Woods is no stranger to short turnarounds, however, at 38 years old he seriously needs to consider whether competing at Valhalla will do him any favours in the long run. His season is effectively over. He would need to win this weekend to make the playoffs for the FedEx Cup. He would also need to play some spectacular golf over the next few weeks for captain, Tom Watson to consider picking the 14-time major winner for his Ryder Cup team.
As Steven Cook quite rightly posted in his column for Bleacher Report, it would serve Woods best to sit out the remainder of the season and prepare himself for Augusta next April rather than risk his health, and potentially his career, searching for that 15th major title.
Ones to watch
There will be plenty of talent on show this weekend at Valhalla Golf Club and there will be many players who will be wanting to make an impression ahead of the FedEx Cup playoffs and also the Ryder Cup.
Adam Scott (above) will be looking to build on from this tied eighth finish at Firestone and mount a challenge to win his second major title and regain the number 1 spot in the world. He has been impressive in the majors in the last four seasons (a win and eight top 10s). Expect to see the Aussie make a challenge at Valhalla.
Phil Mickelson has had a poor season this year but he will be happy with his fourth round performance at the Bridgestone Invitational, scoring a 62 to leave him at tied 15th, scoring 10 birdies and bogeying two. He will relish his pairing of Tiger Woods, should his old rival make it to the tee.
Fellow American, Keegan Bradley will also be looking to make an impression in Louisville. A poor back 9 last Sunday cost the Vermont native his slim chance to claim the Bridgestone Invitational title. A good performance this weekend will boost his chances of making the Ryder Cup team. Although Keegan will undoubtedly be looking win back the title he won in 2011.
24-year-old Patrick Reed will be looking to win himself a belated birthday gift this weekend. A solid 9-under par at Firestone left him at tied-fourth, which included an impressive eagle shot on the par four 17th. More displays like this will help the young man get his first major. With two wins under his belt so far this season, he will be looking to improve on his tied 35th at the U.S. Open and his early exit from The Open in July.
With so much on the line this weekend, expect some good golf to be played with top scorers expected to go into double figures. Putting will be challenging as players come up against some difficult hole locations. However, this will make good viewing over the weekend for us spectators.