McIlroy, Spieth chase history as PGA returns to Kiawah

·4 min read
Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, left, and three-time major champion Jordan Spieth will be two of the favorites in next week's 103rd PGA Championship at Kiawah Island

Thirty years after the Ryder Cup delivered a "War on the Shore" at Kiawah Island, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth could produce more US-versus-Europe fireworks at the 103rd PGA Championship.

The year's second major tournament begins Thursday on the 7,876-yard, par-72 Ocean course at the South Carolina resort where the Americans edged Europe 14 1/2-13 1/2 in 1991.

That gamesmanship-filled Ryder Cup was decided by a missed six-foot par putt by Germany's Bernhard Langer on the 18th hole of the last match.

Such drama was missing at the 2012 PGA Championship as McIlroy cruised to an eight-stroke victory at Kiawah Island, setting the stage for this year's return to the Carolina coast.

Four-time major winner McIlroy, a 32-year-old from Northern Ireland, and three-time major champion Spieth, a 27-year-old Texan, are both playing well and chasing history.

Spieth will try to complete a career Grand Slam by adding the PGA to wins at the 2015 Masters and US Open and 2017 British Open.

A victory at Kiawah Island would put Spieth in exclusive company alongside Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.

"It's the one that, if I could pick one more to win, I'd pick that one," Spieth said. "While I'm playing the tournament, it hasn't really hit me and added any pressure or anything like that. It just kind of excites me a little bit more going into it."

McIlroy will try to snap a seven-year major win drought since his victory at the 2014 PGA. He could become the first player from outside the United States to win a fifth career major since England's Nick Faldo took his fifth of six in 1992.

"Kiawah Island is a pretty big course. He'll need his distance," 2015 PGA winner Jason Day said. "And his short game going to be crucial. I think he's already hitting his irons really good."

It's the first time McIlroy has played a major on a course where he has won a major and it comes after he snapped an 18-month US PGA Tour win drought on May 9 at Quail Hollow.

"That win brings back a bit of that swagger we all need," Ireland's Padraig Harrington said. "Rory is a very dangerous player with that."

Seventh-ranked McIlroy has found momentum after struggles trying to tweak his game.

"This victory's very important going into Kiawah," he said. "I played really well there last time. I'll try to do my homework and re-familiarize myself with the layout a little bit.

"It's certainly great timing. It's obviously a huge confidence boost going in there knowing that my game is closer than it has been... this is validation I'm on the right track."

Due to Covid-19 safety measures, there will be a daily limit of 10,000 spectators, about one-third of the crowd that watched McIlroy in 2012, but any crowds are a boost to McIlroy.

"I'm excited going forward that we get to play in front of crowds," he said. "I'm able to draw energy from that. It's an awesome experience to feel that again."

The PGA of America has approved the use of rangefinders in hopes of speeding the pace.

"I have a hard time seeing it speed things up, unless you get it way offline or you're out of contention," Spieth said. "We'll plan on using it, but I think it will be more confirmation than anything. It's not going to be we just step up, shoot it, and go.

"These pins get tucked and the wind's blowing and you got to figure out a few more things than just the number to the hole."

- Bryson likes his chance -

Reigning US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, whose distance above all style won a major last year at Winged Foot, is also a threat.

"I feel like I'm ramping up," said fourth-ranked DeChambeau. "It's one of the longest championships we've ever played 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.

"If I can be comfortable with my driver, I think I have a good chance to win."

Spain's third-ranked Jon Rahm is readying for fickle winds over the Kiawah layout.

"It can be really windy one direction one day and then be another direction the next," Rahm said. "What I do usually is try to get the touch around the greens and on the green."

Top-ranked Dustin Johnson withdrew from this week's PGA event in Dallas with a sore knee but likes the idea of a major near his hometown, just like when he won the 2020 Masters at Augusta National.

"It's great to play a major in my home state. Definitely looking forward to it," Johnson said. "Really good golf course, very difficult."

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