As golf’s cream of the crop assemble for the second major of 2021 this weekend, Kiawah Island in South Carolina hosts the PGA Championship for the second time, beginning on Thursday.
The 103rd edition of the tournament, the US PGA is one that has perhaps been something of a footnote to the major season in recent years, but in its third rotation as major number two in the calendar, now represents greater importance.
As such, the opportunity to claim the famous Wanamaker Trophy in the coming days, will not only etch another name into the golfing annuls, but Kiawah Island stands as an important marker ahead of next month’s US Open at Torrey Pines, before the much-anticipated return of the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s in July.
Similarly to the Masters back in April, this weekend, spectators will be allowed back into the tournament, with 10,000 fans set to be allowed entry across each of the four days play.
One of the most spectacular venues on the globe, the Ocean Course is a sight to behold with the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean, but its aesthetics are off-set by often strong winds. A feature, set to be prominent this weekend in the Palmetto State.
Is Rory ‘back’?
That is indeed the question ahead of this weekend, after Rory McIlroy ended his 18-month PGA Tour winless run, after taking the Wells Fargo Championship in neighbouring North Carolina ten days ago, winning that particular event for a third time.
Finishing a single stroke ahead of Mexico’s Abraham Ancer at Quail Hollow, this weekend McIlroy, having recently turned 32, brings with him the knowledge that he won at Kiawah Island in 2012 – his first major title.
Not only that, but as he attempts to win his first ‘big four’ crown after a gap of 24 tournaments, McIlroy’s last victory was indeed in the PGA Championship, where he pipped Phil Mickelson at Valhalla in 2014.
That makes the timing of the Northern Irishman’s return here all the more appropriate, after a season that before the arrival of May had been horrific to say the least.
Having missed the cut in consecutive Masters competitions, for the first time post-pandemic, McIlroy actually looked to have shed some of the frustrations in his game at Wells Fargo, eschewing his newly-honed petulance out of his game.
That said however, McIlroy has approached majors in the past in good nick, only to flounder across the weekend. So could the latest edition of the PGA be different? Only time – and pertinently Rory’s nerve – will tell.
Morikawa defends; Thomas eyes repeat; DJ seeks home comforts
Kiawah Island will also be a special tournament for one Collin Morikawa, who defends his PGA title he won last August, after holding steady on the Sunday in the Bay Area.
Playing for the Wanamaker Trophy for the first time in the throes of late summer last year, the Californian rookie took the title, becoming only the fourth player to claim his maiden major at the age of just 23.
Since his win at Harding Park, Morikawa has proven his consistency taking the WGC Workday Championhip at Concession in Florida back in February, and remains inside the world’s top four. Morikawa will be one to watch again.
As too is former number one Justin Thomas, who will be looking to erase memories of last month’s collapse at Augusta, having intially moved into contention for the Green Jacket.
Champion at Quail Hollow in 2017, the Kentucky native will still be licking his wounds after his hopes at the Masters found a watery grave in his third round, but in the Carolinas, Thomas will feel at home.
Having once again deposed Thomas at the top of the rankings, South Carolina’s own Dustin Johnson will look to win his second major in six months, having surrendered his crown at Augusta last month.
Located on the southern tip of the state, Kiawah Island is some 139 miles from Johnson’s roots of the state capital Columbia, but this could be as close as DJ gets to a home major, so could he make it number three?
Or, might an Asian player win for the second major in a row? Following on from Hideki Matsuyama‘s trip to the Butler Cabin in April, could Lee Kyoung-hoon figure, after claiming his first PGA Tour event win at the AT&T Byron Nelson last weekend in Dallas?
Of this season’s most recent Tour winners, the American duo of Sam Burns and Joel Dahmen both claimed their own inaugural wins in the Dominican Republic and Florida respectively, whilst Australian duo Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman – the latter featuring at Augusta – also took the Zurich Classic team competition in Louisiana a few short weeks back.
Opening pairings – all times ET
As the opening pairs go off at 07:00 local time, two Englishman who will look to be in the mix come the weekend in Paul Casey – his own best result in a major last year – and Tyrrell Hatton head out in the opening hour of play, with the 07:48 game of Hatton, Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler an eye-catching triple.
Two of Europe’s likely stars for this year’s Ryder Cup in Lee Westwood and Viktor Hovland play alongside Xander Schauffele shortly after at 08:22, and with all three having form this year, to see a winner from this triple would not be so far-fetched.
Perhaps the day’s biggest draw comes from the former PGA champions trio of McIlroy, Thomas and Koepka (08:33), although an equally mouth-watering draw sees three of the last four major winners in Morikawa, Matsuyama and the again much-fancied Bryson DeChambeau tee off 11 minutes later.
A game to look out for later in the afternoon sees Corey Conners, Matt Fitzpatrick and Tony Finau go out with hopes of making an impression (13:03), with another Ryder Cup duo in Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood accompanying Patrick Reed (13:25).
Finally, home favourite Johnson is paired with defending Open champion Shane Lowry and Sergio Garcia (14:09).
The 2021 PGA Championship begins on Thursday at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, South Carolina.
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