El Nino to Become El Hombre
The US PGA Championship is known as glory’s last shot as it is the final major of the season but this year Rory McIlroy could become the first player to win more than one major in a season since Tiger Woods in 2006. On current form Sergio Garcia look like being a contenders and it could be the week in which El Nino becomes a man in the context of major championship golf.
Woods has won fourteen major championships including the PGA when it was last played at this week’s venue in 2000. At over 7400 Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky is relatively long for a par 71 course. The former world number was winning his fifth major in2000 and seemed even at that stage seemed destined to overhaul Jack Nicklaus’s tally of 18 majors.
The 2008 US Open was the last major Woods won and it is now unlikely he will win a fifteenth never mind the 19 he requires to beat Nicklaus’s total. Woods suffered a painful back injury during the Bridgestone Invitational last week and he may not be seen on the course until the start of next at the earliest.
The multiple major winner wasn’t looking like qualifying for the Ryder Cup by right. He was relying on getting a wildcard pick from US captain Tom Watson. Now that thorny issue has gone away but it s a selection problem Watson would prefer to have. He had already lost Dustin Johnson from his team as that player is taking a break golf to address some personal issues away from the course.
Woods had surgery for a damage disc in his back in March and said at the Open that he thought his career could be over. In the WGC event last week the American was playing just his eighth round after four months away from the game. Since 2002 Woods has had nine major injuries and missed six majors He also came back to win more tournaments but now his major championship winning days seem to be behind him.
At the start of this season Woods was looking forward to playing majors on three of four courses where won before. He missed the Masters at Augusta and made the cut by one shot in the Open at Hoylake. Only three players finished behind him of those players who had qualified for the weekend.
Since the demise of Woods McIlroy has emerged as the best golfer in the world and the player most likely to win major championships over the next fifteen years or more. After winning the Open he is now the only European to win three separate majors. Even Sir Nick Faldo and Severiano Ballesteros won two.
McIlroy won the PGA Championship in 2012 so this week will be looking to become the first multiple champion since Woods won for the second time in 2000. The new world number one is three quarters of the way to a career Grand Slam. When and not if he wins the US Masters he will join a group of just five players to have won each of the four majors at least once.
Valhalla is similar in design to the Firestone course in Akron, Ohio that staged the WGC event last week. Both are second shot courses and the key skill for decent scoring is finding the greens in regulation. The putting surfaces are relatively small so that puts a premium on scrambling. Long driving is desirable but not necessary for success. As in all majors every aspect of a player’s game will be tested.
In his last two tournaments McIlroy has won a major and world golf championship event. He is the hottest player on the planet now but it is a big ask to win three times in a row. However, every aspect of his game is in good order so a third win would not be a great surprise. His driving has been long and accurate and that is always important on championship courses.
At aged just 25 McIlroy can be competitive in majors for the next fifteen years at least. Given a good run of health and fitness he should win another seven majors or more. That would put him at fourth in the current table of multiple major champions behind Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Walter Hagen and make him the leading European in the list.
Garcia has never won a major but surely his time will come. He has finished second behind McIlroy in his last two events but has done nothing wrong on both occasions. Garcia’s problem in these big events is that he has run into McIlroy at the top of his game. Garcia actually has the best skills profile of the entire field and if he maintains his current form will be a contender again this week.
Beyond McIlroy and Garcia the next obvious contender is Adam Scott. He has so far won just one major in his career but is destined to win several more. His career could have gone either way after wasting a great chance to win the Open in 2012. It is testimony to his character and skill that he has moved up the world rankings since then. Scott scores highly for the key skills this week.
Scott will need to be at his very best and hope for a dip in form from McIlroy and Garcia. However, a more likely scenario is a an elusive first major for Garcia and the emergence of El Hombre from the player formerly known as El Nino. Vamos Sergio.