US PGA talking points: Rory McIlroy returns to scene of glory, Jordan Spieth's major target, and taming the 'diabolical course'

The season’s second golf major tees-off on Thursday. We look at some of the standout storylines to play out at Kiawah Island.

Rory McIlroy throws his ball to the crowd after winning on the 18th hole during the fourth round of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament at Quail Hollow on Sunday, May 9, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)
Rory McIlroy throws his ball to the crowd after winning on the 18th hole during the fourth round of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament at Quail Hollow on Sunday, May 9, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

Can McIlroy repeat his record-breaking 2012 glory?

It perhaps feels a lifetime since, but remember Rory McIlroy’s inspired win at Kiawah Island almost a decade ago? Back then, he had the golfing world at his feet, claiming a second major and, within two seasons, climbing to four.

McIlroy blitzed the field in 2012, taming one of the circuit’s toughest tracks to triumph by eight shots. He returns a markedly different player and person, but given his past pedigree and recent victory at Quail Hollow, he sits as favourite.

However, McIlroy’s victory at the Wells Fargo Championship less two weeks ago, which snapped an 18-month drought, maybe masked a golfer still in the process of figuring out his game.

Pete Cowan, the respected swing coach, joined the team only seven weeks ago. And, lest we forget, it’s almost seven years since McIlroy sealed the last of his four majors. Not to mention the Ocean Course is likely to play significantly differently in May, compared to August. That said, McIlroy remains arguably golf’s most talented guy. A fast start will be key.

It is now almost Rory McIlroy seven years since McIlroy sealed the last of his four majors. PA
It is now almost Rory McIlroy seven years since McIlroy sealed the last of his four majors. PA

Will Spieth join the game’s great select band?

The modern grand slam keeps rarefied company indeed. Only five players have managed to capture all four of golf’s major championships, the list of luminaries portraying just how difficult a feat it is.

It reads: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Prevail this week, and Jordan Spieth becomes No 6 in that truly select band.

This marks his fifth attempt at the slam, such was the 27-year-old’s incredible early rampage through the sport. And it’s arguably his best chance since 2017, when he was coming fresh off his Open success.

After plummeting to 98th in the rankings, the former world No 1 has clambered back to 26th, thanks to a win at last month’s Texas Open – his first title since 2017 – and four more top-four finishes in his past nine events. In fact, Spieth has seven top-10s in that time. Thus, he’s very much trending towards major win No 4 – and the final piece of the slam jigsaw.

Winning the US PGA Championship would mean Jordan Spieth has completed a clean-sweep of major titles. AP
Winning the US PGA Championship would mean Jordan Spieth has completed a clean-sweep of major titles. AP

Can the beastly Kiawah Island be tamed?

Bryson DeChambeau, the world No 5, has described it a “diabolical test”. Jon Rahm, sitting two spots above in the rankings, pleaded for tournament organisers to use selected forward tees “for the sake of our sanity”.

Yes, the Ocean Course will make a name for itself in its own right this week, and if played to maximum length, will regain its crown as the longest track in major championship history, at 7,876 yards.

As with most oceanside courses, the wind will play a central role and, should it get up, then the competitors are in for a dastardly four days. In 2012, when it howled during Round 2, three-over-par 75 was considered a superb achievement.

Aside from the length, the elevated greens are typically desperately hard to hold, too. Thankfully, for the sake of Rahm and everyone else, officials have already said some forward tees are likely to be employed, although “it'll totally depend on Mother Nature”. Good luck, still, with the greens.

Jon Rahm, of Spain, hits his tee shot on the seventh hole during a practice round at the PGA Championship golf tournament on the Ocean Course Tuesday, May 18, 2021, in Kiawah Island, S.C. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Jon Rahm has asked US PGA organisers to use selected forward tees 'for the sake of our sanity' on Ocean Course. AP

Who will halt US Wanamaker Trophy dominance?

Of the past 25 championships, American players have eventually held aloft the hefty Wanamaker Trophy 17 times.

There was the brief spell between 2012 and 2014, when McIlroy won twice and Jason Day once, or the three-year run from 2008, which went Padraig Harrington, Yang Yong-eun and Martin Kaymer. But other than that, the tournament title has largely stayed on US shores. So who can break that grasp this week?

Spain’s Rahm is world No 3 and, although yet to land a major, is surely going to soon walk through that door. He’s already knocked loudly, with one 3rd, three top-5s and two other top-10s in majors since 2018.

As for other non-Americans, Englishman Tyrrell Hatton (world No 9) and Norway’s Viktor Hovland (No 11) are conceivably not far from underlining their elite-level credentials, while Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama is coming off last month’s Masters win. Oh how Europe, especially, would love a win at Kiawah – after all, it’s Ryder Cup year.

Hideki Matsuyama after winning last month's Masters at Augusta. AP
Hideki Matsuyama after winning last month's Masters at Augusta. AP

Published: May 20, 2021 06:56 AM

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