The 99th edition of the US PGA Championship brings the 2017 Major season to a close, as the greatest players in the game gather at Quail Hollow Club, which hosts the prestigious event for the first time. Here’s the lowdown…
Last year, Jimmy Walker claimed his maiden Major Championship title when he overcame Jason Day by a single stroke.
Inclement weather on Saturday meant that the third round had to be completed on Sunday and the two-time Ryder Cup player – along with the majority of the field – was forced to play 36 holes on a marathon Sunday.
After a third round 68 on Sunday morning Walker held a one shot lead over Day – who was the World Number One at the time – going into the final round, which he teed off six hours and 16 minutes after hitting his first shot of the day.
He followed up his third round 68 with a 67 which got off to the most solid of starts – with pars in his opening nine holes. That run was broken in spectacular fashion when he holed out from the bunker at the tenth, and a third birdie of the day at the 17th meant he stepped onto the final tee with a three shot lead.
There was a sting in the tail, however, as Day swiftly eagled the final hole to pile the pressure on Walker. The Texan held his nerve though, and a three-foot par putt sealed a wire-to-wire victory, making it four first-time Major winners in the 2016 season as he joined Danny Willett (Masters Tournament), Dustin Johnson (U.S. Open) and Henrik Stenson (The Open Championship).
All but one of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking arrive in North Carolina’s capital city of Charlotte this week for a final shot at 2017 Major Championship glory, with only world number 36 Brandt Snedeker missing through injury.
The biggest storyline this week will revolve around The Open Champion Jordan Spieth, who is aiming to become the youngest player in history to seal the Grand Slam of all four Major Championships – interestingly, he would be the first ever to complete the quartet at the US PGA Championship.
The spotlight will also inevitably fall on Rory McIlroy as he arrives at the only Major Championship which he has won on two occasions, at a course upon which he has also won twice in the Wells Fargo Championship.
The Masters Tournament is the only Major Championship missing from McIlroy’s collection, but if he was to win this week he would become just the 20th player in history to win five or more Majors, and only the sixth to win this event three times.
All of this means that the World Number One Dustin Johnson – who earlier this year won three successive tournaments including back-to-back World Golf Championships – bizarrely comes into the week somewhat under the radar.
Of the 52 European Tour Members present this week, five are making their debut -
Ryan Fox, Dylan Frittelli, Haotong Li, Jon Rahm and Jordan Smith. Former Champions Padraig Harrington (2008), McIlroy (2012 and 2015), Vijay Singh (1998 and 2004) and Y.E. Yang (2009) are also included on that list.
Reigning Masters Champion Sergio Garcia and U.S. Open Champion Brooks Koepka join Spieth in completing the complement of 2017 Major winners in the field while world number three Hideki Matsuyama will arrive in confident mood after his victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week.
Quail Hollow Club hosts a Major Championship for the first time this week, becoming the third venue in North Carolina to host the US PGA Championship after Pinehurst Resort and Country Club in 1936 and Tanglewood Golf Club in 1974.
It is no stranger to hosting large professional events, however, having hosted US PGA Tour events in four of the past five decades. The most recent of the three different tournaments to have called Quail Hollow its home is the Wells Fargo Championship, which began in 2003 as the Wachovia Championship.
Historically, the Charlotte course has favoured elite, long drivers of the ball and players who are aggressive in chasing birdies, while strong scoring on the three par fives has been an indicator of success.
Over the past 15 months, significant changes have been made to the course in preparation for this event, with the first and second being bulldozed to be replaced by two new holes – a longer, dogleg right, par-four first and a par three second hole. The fifth has been shortened from a par five to a par four while the 11th has been extended with some bunkers added.
It is all part of the long-term vision of Tom Fazio, who redesigned the course in 1997 and 2003. The course was originally designed by George Cobb and also received some modifications from Arnold Palmer in 1986.
Did you know?
· European Tour Members have won five of the past nine editions of this Championship – Rory McIlroy (2015 and 2012), Martin Kaymer (2010), Y.E. Yang (2009) and Padraig Harrington (2008).
· Rory McIlroy shot an 11 under par 61 to set the course record at Quail Hollow in the 2015 Wells Fargo Championship on the way to his second victory at this venue having claimed his maiden US PGA Tour title there in 2010.
· McIlroy is the only player in the field this week aiming to join an elite club of players to have won the US PGA Championship three times or more. Only five players have done so: Walter Hagen (1921, 1924, 1925, 1926 and 1927), Jack Nicklaus (1963, 1971, 1973, 1975 and 1980), Tiger Woods (1999, 2000, 2006 and 2007), Gene Sarazen (1922, 1923 and 1933) and Sam Snead (1942, 1949 and 1951).
· McIlroy would become the 20th player to win five or more Major Championships, joining Nicklaus (18), Tiger Woods (14), Hagen (11), Ben Hogan and Gary Player (both nine), Tom Watson (eight), Sarazen, Arnold Palmer, Snead, Bobby Jones, Harry Varden (all seven), Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo (both six), Phil Mickelson, Byron Nelson, Seve Ballesteros, James Braid, John Henry Taylor and Peter Thompson (all five).
· Jordan Spieth is also targeting an historic achievement of a career Grand Slam. Only five golfers have won all four majors (The Open Championship, U.S. Open, Masters Tournament and US PGA Championship), though none have done it in the same year. They are: Sarazen, Hogan, Player, Nicklaus, and Woods. Spieth would become the youngest ever to do so, at the age of 24 years and 17 days.
· Open Champion Spieth will be attempting to win back-to-back Major crowns for the second time in his career, following his victories at The Masters and The U.S. Open in 2015.
· McIlroy won the final two Majors of the year in 2014. Others to achieve that feat in the last 25 years are Nick Price (1994), Woods (2000 and 2006) and Harrington (2008).
· Since 2009 the US PGA Championship has produced six first-time Major winners: Yang (2009), Kaymer (2010), Keegan Bradley (2011), Jason Dufner (2013), Jason Day (2015) and Jimmy Walker (2016).
· Defending champion Walker won his first Major Championship in his 18th appearance in golf’s big four, beating his previous best Major performance of tied seventh at the 2014 US PGA Championship.
· Walker’s winning total of 266 (-14) was the second lowest 72 hole winning total in US PGA Championship history, behind David Toms, who won in 2001 with 265. Walker was the eighth wire-to-wire winner of the US PGA Championship since the event became stroke play in 1958, and the first since Mickelson at Baltusrol in 2005.