If we’re being honest, it has been a relatively quiet PGA Tour season to date.
Sure, there have been some key moments: Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy ending respective winless streaks (Spieth capturing the Valero Texas Open and McIlroy winning the Wells Fargo two weeks ago), were highlights. So, too, were Bryson DeChambeau flexing his muscles to win at Bay Hill and Justin Thomas winning the Players Championship.
Hideki Matsuyama’s Masters victory had historical relevance, as he became the first male player from Japan to win a major championship. Some under-the-radar players, like Stewart Cink with two wins, and Harris English and Matt Jones, both of whom ended respective seven-year winless droughts, also were noteworthy.
But the reality is this: No player has truly seized 2021 by the throat. Perhaps that will begin to change at this week’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course in South Carolina, the site of the 2012 PGA.
Here’s a look at some of the key storylines entering the second major championship of 2021:
McIlroy is the defending champion at Kiawah Island, having won the 2012 PGA there by a record eight shots. He, too, is two weeks removed from his win at the Wells Fargo Championship, which ended a winless streak that stretched for some 18 months.
“I hadn’t sniffed a weekend of a golf tournament for a couple of months,’’ McIlroy said. “I guess it turned around quickly. But there’s a lot of work in between to get to that point.’’
This will be Spieth’s fifth attempt at completing the rare career Grand Slam, a feat just five players have accomplished.
“The first time was really the only time where it may have weighed on me, only given it was coming right off a major win [the ’17 British Open was his third leg],’’ Spieth said. “And then I was playing really well, so I felt in form. And then the years after, I just didn’t really feel in great form in PGAs. Every year I go into that tournament, it’s the one that if I could pick one more to win, I would pick that one.”
Spieth’s form has been fabulous in 2021, with a handful of top-five finishes, including the win at Valero and a tie for third at the Masters. He, too, had himself in contention deep into the Byron Nelson Invitational.
Look out for No. 1
Dustin Johnson remains ranked No. 1 in the world, but does it really feel as if he’s the best right now, considering he has played just twice since missing the cut in his defense at the Masters in April? Johnson pulled out of this past week’s Byron Nelson citing knee soreness.
Is Brooks back?
Brooks Koepka, who reigned as the top player in the world before D.J. took over, has been slowed by injuries for much of the past year. Koepka returned to play the Masters just weeks after undergoing knee surgery and missed the cut. He hadn’t played until the Byron Nelson this week and he missed the cut there, too.
“[I’m] still not 100 percent,’’ Koepka said during the week. “[It’ll] still be a while before I’m 100 percent. It’s dramatically better than it was at Augusta. I feel like the strength is getting there. The mobility is getting there. I’m ahead of schedule.’’
We haven’t heard much lately from Collin Morikawa, who won the PGA Championship last August at Harding Park in San Francisco — where his signature winning shot was his tee shot to seven feet for eagle on the par-4 16th in the final round. Morikawa has four top-10 finishes since his PGA victory, but one of those was a WGC victory.
The Bryson Show
DeChambeau, the winner of the 2020 U.S. Open and the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational, said before missing the cut at last week’s Byron Nelson that he’s “ramping up’’ for the PGA.
“Kiawah, I’ve never played it, but I’ve seen it on TV, obviously, watching Rory do what he did [in 2012],’’ he said. “I think it’s one of the longest championships we’ve ever played [it is]. And I’m excited for that, because any time it’s a super-long golf course I think it fits into my hand quite nicely.’’
The Ocean Course, one of Pete Dye’s most famous designs, stretches out to more than 7,800 yards from the back tees. That combined with the prevailing winds off the Atlantic Ocean can make the course diabolical.
The Ocean Course is best remembered for being the site of the 1991 Ryder Cup, which was dubbed the “War by the Shore” and was won by the United States.
“I want to punish these pros if they don’t hit the proper shots,” Dye famously said when the Ocean Course was unveiled to the world that week.
More recently, the PGA of America conducted the 2007 Senior PGA Championship, won by Denis Watson, and the 2012 PGA Championship, won by McIlroy, at the Ocean Course.