Jordan Spieth’s finishing flurry to claim the British Open title ended the revolving door of first-time major winners and instead put the Tour awesomely back on the doorstep of major history.
With a win at this week’s PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, Spieth would become the youngest player ever to achieve golf’s career Grand Slam. Spieth has been installed as the co-favorite to do just that, along with Rory McIlroy, a past champion at Quail Hollow and the course record holder.
Were Spieth to pull it off, he’d bag an avalanche of career accolades the likes of which even Tiger Woods can’t match and also put himself squarely in the driver’s seat to be the Tour’s player of the year. He would also further threaten Dustin Johnson’s position as world No. 1.
Will Johnson, McIlroy or another world elite stand in the way, or will Spieth make some head-turning history and give the Tour a dramatic finish to the major season?
We’ll start to find out on Thurs. Here’s a look at the top storylines heading into the week.
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By going 5-under over the final four holes at Royal Birkdale to claim the Claret Jug, Spieth put the Tour back on some refreshing historical footing. Only five men have claimed the career Grand Slam and Spieth is gunning to become the sixth and faster than any of them.
Spieth enters the PGA on a run of consecutive victories and aiming to topple Tiger as the youngest player ever to claim the career Slam, doing so with some Tiger-esque moments such as jarring a 50-foot eagle putt at the British to spark his final charge.
Spieth’s impeccable putter and short game have earned him his place in history. But on a long and difficult driving golf course, will it be enough to get him the career Slam up-and-down?
One of the few reasons to doubt: He doesn’t have a track record here (he’s only played once in the Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship); his co-favorite does.
Rory’s Quail Tale
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Though he hasn’t won on Tour in 2017, Rory is listed as co-favorite largely because of track record at Quail.
Rory has two victories and six top-10s at Quail Hollow and holds the course record (61). After a slow start at the British, McIlroy rebounded to show flashes of his old self. McIlroy has battled a fractured rib much of the season, but he and his game finally look healthy again. At the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, McIlroy set a 54-hole record with 38 drivers over 300 yards.
That particularly matters going to the PGA at Quail Hollow, because …
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Quail Hollow is a bomber’s course. The Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee noted to start the week that the majority of past champions at Quail can be found atop the driving starts for the week. The recently re-designed course sets the tone with an opening par 4 that plays to 524 yards. It’s one of three for the week playing over 500 yards.
That plays to Rory’s favor, but it will also have other tour big boppers, such as world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, looking to cash in and capture the year’s final major. Johnson’s driver is never in doubt, but will his putter hold up? Same goes for McIlroy, who’s playing with a new caddie, a switch that didn’t go so well for Phil Mickelson at the British Open.
In a close contest where every stroke matters, will Rory’s decision come back to haunt him? The door is certainly wide open for second-guessing. If Rory wins and slams it shut, he’ll have major momentum going for his own career slam again at the Masters in 2018.
Will There Be Reign or Just Rain?
As of now, the forecast for the week is a major bummer. A wet week seems in store, with a projected 100 percent chance of rain on Friday. The Charlotte Observer says a solid 50 percent chance is in the forecast for every day up to Sunday.
Who will dodge the bogeys between rains drops and make birdies when the sun shines? Will the elements even more favor a player with a track record at Quail Hollow? If so, besides McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson head that list.
Or will the wet Bermuda tilt the advantage to strong iron players? If so, advantage Spieth. But a soggy slog to the title seems certain for someone.
Hello, PGA in May
New PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan is looking to shake up the Tour schedule, which has major implications for the PGA Championship.
The Tour announced the PGA will move to May starting in 2019, placing it between the Masters and the U.S. Open with its vacated August date allowing for early start to the FedEx Cup playoffs.
You’ll undoubtedly hear the change debated during the 2017 PGA broadcast, which seems ideal Thurs./Fri. rainy day talk. When it turns to the weekend, however, Spieth will be the most talked about Jordan since Michael in North Carolina if he’s got the Grand Slam in his sights. Can he just do it? We start to find out on Thurs.
Don’t just watch golf these next four days, book a round and get out on the course. Unlike Quail Hollow, the weather forecast at Arroyo Trabuco is looking nice: clear skies with highs around 82 degrees. After your round pull up a stool to watch the PGA Championship action on our TVs in O’Neill’s Bar & Grill.
Photo from Golf Digest