It feels as though we are hurtling into the second men’s major of the year because Tiger Woods’ epic Masters win has given golf huge momentum. And the shake up of the calendar means the sport is well placed to capitalise.
The US PGA Championship has always felt like the fourth of the four majors and its old August date reinforced the notion. But now it has moved to May, meaning we have a major in successive months from the Masters in April through to The Open in July.
As the next big one after the seismic events at Augusta, the PGA at Bethpage this week is being eagerly anticipated. Can Woods make it successive major victories or will another big name respond by muscling into the headlines? We will be watching with intense interest at the formidable Long Island course. The popular view is that this is a venue that will prove too penal for Woods’ quest for a sixteenth major title.
Those wayward tee shots that went relatively unpunished at the Masters will be more ruinous if they return this week. Furthermore, New York in May is a pretty chilly place.
Woods’ famously fused back needs a warm sun on it for him to function at his best. The course is likely to play long. It will be a week for the bombers rather than the kind of strategic plotter that the 43 year old legend has become. That is not to totally write off Woods’ chances. We all know now that you do that at your peril. His Masters win was so impactful because it capped one of sport’s greatest comebacks. This tale of redemption has captured the imagination of all golf fans and a wider sporting audience. It is why there will be so much interest surrounding the player and, by association, the rest of the field.
It was at the last PGA in August 2018 that Woods signalled he was ready to win another major. He surged through the final round with a 64 that left him a smiling runner up. Back in the day second place was never enough for Woods. But at Bellerive it most certainly was because it indicated that his major winning days might not be over. He had been beaten by the better man – the US Open champion Brooks Koepka, who would be my favourite this week. The burly American reserves his best golf for the majors and with successive victories in the national championship of his homeland he has shown how to defend the biggest titles. Koepka came desperately close at The Masters to prove that he has not lost his knack of finding the right mindset for the majors. His credentials for Bethpage cannot be ignored and he has a wonderful chance of taking his tally to four in the events that define careers.
Dustin Johnson is another whose game looks well suited. But he lacks Koepka’s killer edge – just one major success is a poor return for a player who is often so dominant at tour level.
Justin Rose should never be discounted because his technique and temperament come to the fore in the sternest examinations. The Bahamas based Englishman tailors his schedules to peak at the majors and after a disappointing at Augusta he will not lack motivation this week.
Of course, we cannot discuss UK chances without mentioning Rory McIlroy. How do you predict what the Northern Irishman is gong to do next? His start to the year was the steadiest of his career. Near miss after near miss showed that much of his game was exactly where it needed to be. McIlroy’s imperious ball striking will give him a big advantage at Bethpage but his anaemic display at Augusta provides cause for concern. Will his wedges and putter behave – because they certainly did not at the Masters? But it did come together at the Players Championship in March – which prompted so much optimism. That win was at an event which is the next best thing to a major. For the sport it was the spark that lit a fire that became a blaze with Woods’ win at Augusta.
And so golf continues to burn bright, which means I can’t wait to commentate for BBC 5Live on this week’s major. We are on a roll and long may it continue.