The 101st PGA Championship tees off this week at Bethpage Black in New York, and every single one of the biggest names in golf will be in attendance. Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth … oh, and some guy named Tiger.
The tournament begins Thursday morning; tee times are already out. Here are five storylines you need to know heading into the year’s second major:
Tiger, Tiger Woods, y’all
We’re now in the world of Tiger 2.0, where a whole new crop of players will learn just what it’s like to try to hold a lead with The Man In Red And Black on their heels. Woods hasn’t played since winning the Masters, one of the few times he’s gone directly from major to major. But he’s got success at Bethpage — he won the U.S. Open there in 2002 after winning the Masters, matter of fact — and the fact that the course will play a touch easier ought to bode well for his chances of carding major No. 16.
PGA changing seasons
If it seems like the PGA Championship came around a little earlier this year, you’re not dreaming; it’s been moved up three months from its usual August date. This permanent change achieves several goals: keeping a consistent one-a-month major season while allowing golf to finish up its season before the dragon’s fire of the NFL scorches everything it is path. Ratings-wise, how will a major fare against the heart of the NBA and NHL playoffs? We’re about to find out.
The fearsome Black course, with its notorious Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter sign, hasn’t hosted a major since the 2009 U.S. Open. You remember, that was the classic won by … well, Lucas Glover. Anyway, the PGA doesn’t shape its course to punitive levels like the USGA, so expect this week to play a little bit easier … plus, heavy rains over the last few weeks have softened up the course. In short, it’s a gettable week for the entire field. Of note: the PGA Championship is very friendly to first-time major winners; seven of the last 10 winners in the PGA were first-timers.
Let’s talk about Brooks Koepka
“Nobody talks about Brooks Koepka” is the new “Everyone talks too much about Tiger Woods” — a tired cliche that has very little basis in truth. Koepka’s the reigning champ at both the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, and if he were to win this week, he’d be the first golfer ever to be a back-to-back champion at two different majors. He’s placed in the top five in three of the last four PGAs, and he’s got top-10 finishes in seven of the last 11 majors he’s played. Dude’s a big-game hunter, and majors are as big as it gets.
Jordan Spieth’s Grand Slam chances
He’s been off the radar for a year or so now, but it’s worth remembering that Jordan Spieth is just one PGA Championship win from becoming only the sixth man to win the career Grand Slam. (Also in the hunt: Rory McIlroy, lacking a Masters, and Phil Mickelson, lacking a U.S. Open.) It’s also worth remembering that Spieth is only 25 years old, with literally decades of high-level golf ahead of him. He hasn’t won anywhere in almost two years, and the rough news for Spieth is, there’s no indication he’s on track to win again anytime soon. But if he were to get his game straightened out and win at Bethpage, it’d be historic in more ways than one.
Keep an eye on Yahoo Sports all week long for live reports straight from Bethpage Black. Enjoy the tournament!