Golf: McIlroy, Scheffler and Koepka top favorites for 2024’s second Major

Louisville, US, May 15 It was at this very course that Rory McIlroy won the last of his four Majors. And he returns to the 106th PGA Championships at Valhalla having won his last two starts, including a fourth Wells Fargo win in the hope of ending a Major drought.

He has missed the cut just once at a wet Baltusrol in 2016 and has eight top-10 results from 14 weekends at the PGA including T7 at Oak Hill in 2023 and solo eighth at Southern Hills in 2022.

As 156 players descend onto Valhalla, this is the fourth edition of the PGA Championship on the Jack Nicklaus design. After testing as a par 72 in 1996 and 2000, it’s been a par 71 since Rory McIlroy prevailed in 2014. The tournament was then played in August. At 7,609 yards it is 151 yards longer than a decade ago.

McIlroy won in 2014 at 16-under 268 and was among five with four rounds in the 60s. He led the field in distance of all drives, total driving, Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and par-4 scoring.

McIlroy is among the 34 in this week’s field who competed here 10 years ago and he is in search of a third Wanamaker trophy.

Scottie Scheffler, who has two Green Jackets, was T4 on debut in 2020 edition at TPC Harding Park and T8 in 2021. He was tied second last year at Oak Hill and the only time he did not play on the weekend was in 2022 at Southern Hills. Now he is No. 1 in the world by a massive margin and new father.

And he is also ready to have a different caddie for Saturday, having given regular bagman, Ted Scott, leave to attend his daughter’s graduation ceremony on Saturday.

Asians at PGA Championships

Only one Asian has won the PGA Championships and that was in 2009 when Korea’s YE Yang beat Woods to do that.

No one was happier than Korea’s S H Kim at McIlroy winning the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday which allowed him to squeeze into the elite field.

Kim described himself as being “thrilled and very excited” ahead of his major debut at the PGA Championship.

The 25-year-old Kim, who is competing in his second season on the PGA TOUR, earned his place in the year’s second major following McIlroy’s victory at the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday which allowed him to squeeze into the elite field.

He will join six other Koreans at Valhalla, including 2009 PGA Championship winner Y.E. Yang, the first Asian male major champion, Byeong Hun An, Tom Kim, Si Woo Kim, K.H. Lee and Sungjae Im. Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan was also a late inclusion on Monday after he got into the field for his third PGA Championship appearance following Taylor Montgomery’s withdrawal.

Two Indian-Americans in the field

There are no Indians in the field, but Sahith Theegala and Akshay Bhatia, who have thrilled the Indians in US and in India with their performances will be among the 156 starters.

Theegala is ranked 12th in the world and Bhatia is 34th.

Theegala won once last year on PGA Tour, while left hander Bhatia now has two wins. Both are very popular with the crowds and play aggressive.

Bhatia will play alongside Bryson De Chambeau and Tommy Fleetwood, while Theegala plays with Tony Finau and Tyrell Hatton.

Fourth PGA Championships at Valhalla

The PGA Championship returns to Valhalla Golf Club for the fourth time. In addition to the 1996, 2000 and 2014 PGA Championships, the Jack Nicklaus design staged the 2008 Ryder Cup and two editions of the Senior PGA Championship.

One of the stars at this PGA Championships will be Brooks Koepka. In his last six PGA Championships, Koepka has won three and tied for second once. He has never missed the weekend in 11 previous attempts. His three PGA Championships wins are exceeded only by Tiger Woods (4) and Valhalla course designer Jack Nicklaus (5) in the stroke play format.

Local star Justin Thomas will have his first chance to compete in a major championship in his backyard. The Louisville native and son of a PGA Professional has won this event twice in the last seven years – the 2017 edition at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte for his first major championship and then at the 2022 tournament at Southern Hills outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he had the largest come-from-behind victory (by seven shots).

In 2014, when the PGA Championships was last held here, Thomas was on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2014.

The four-time winner Woods (1999-2000 and 2006-07) has sought to play down his chances as he tees for his second Major of 2024.

Phil Mickelson, the only other multiple PGA Championship winner in the field, won his second title at The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in 2021 beating Koepka by two shots and became the oldest major champion in history at age 51. He plays his 31st PGA Championship and has ten Top-10 finishes in 27 made cuts. He has been Top-10 in each of the three PGA Championships at Valhalla (second, T9 and T8).

Source: IANS
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