Rory McIlroy didn’t spend much time celebrating his wire-to-wire victory at the British Open.
Then again, he didn’t have a lot of time.
Just 18 days after the engraver etched his name into the silver claret jug, McIlroy tees off in final major of the year at the PGA Championship, which returns this year to Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.
The PGA Championship used to be known as “Glory’s Last Shot” until it went away from that slogan. Now, the PGA of America promotes the final major as having the strongest field in golf (everyone from the top 108 in the world qualified or was invited) with the richest purse ($10 million, with $1.8 million going to the winner).
Picking a winner is about as easy as throwing darts blindfolded.
Keegan Bradley won in 2011 in the first major he ever played. Tiger Woods has won four times. And perhaps the most famous PGA winner was John Daly, who was the ninth alternate in 1991 when he got into the field at Crooked Stick and introduced golf to his “grip it and rip it” style of play.
Rory on the rise
Rory McIlroy looked lost for so much of the year until two big weeks in England.
First, he won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in late May, the same week that he announced he had broken off his engagement with Caroline Wozniacki. Then, the 25-year-old from Northern Ireland led from start to finish at Royal Liverpool to win The Open.
McIlroy hopes this is the start of another big run.
He will try to become only the sixth player – including Woods twice – to win the final two majors of the year. The last player to achieve that feat was another Irishman – Padraig Harrington in 2008.
Valhalla was designed by Jack Nicklaus and it is owned by the PGA of America, which explains why it is getting its third major event.
It has not lacked for drama.
At the 1996 PGA Championship, Kentucky native Kenny Perry looked to be the winner and was in the broadcast booth when Mark Brooks caught him and forced a playoff. Brooks won in sudden-death, raising questions whether Perry should have been on the range instead of a TV tower.
Woods and May put on such an incredible show that May was tied for the lead, shot 31 on the back nine and still ended up losing.
Not to be forgotten is the 2008 Ryder Cup, the only time the Americans won since 1999. One of the key moments came from Hunter Mahan, who rolled in a 60-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole that secured a half-point.
Europe had gone 78 years without winning the PGA Championship until Padraig Harrington of Ireland won at Oakland Hills in 2008. That was the start of Europeans winning three of the last six times. But there’s even more at stake at Valhalla.
Martin Kaymer of Germany won the U.S. Open. McIlroy won the British Open. Europe has never had three players win majors in the same year. And with players like Henrik Stenson (Sweden), Justin Rose (England) and Sergio Garcia (Spain) in good form, there are plenty of candidates.