PGA Championship 2014: Burning Questions at Valhalla
The final major championship of the 2014 season takes place this week at Valhalla Golf Club near Louisville, Kentucky.
There have been few PGA Championships in history with more intrigue and interest than this 96th.
Topping the list is the status of Tiger Woods, who suffered a back injury early in the final round of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. He withdrew halfway through the round and struggled to get off the course. But after playing nine holes in a practice round on Wednesday, he's set to compete. According to Ron Green of Global Golf Post, Tiger said he's "pain-free."
In terms of interest, can Rory McIlroy complete an incredible hat trick of victories, having won the British Open, the Bridgestone Invitational and finishing it off with his second career PGA Championship victory?
How about the emotional return home for Kenny Perry, who is playing on a special invitation in most likely his final major appearance on the PGA Tour?
And just how badly will Adam Scott want to win this week after losing his No. 1 world ranking to McIlroy in Akron, Ohio, on Sunday?
Check out this list of burning questions as the first round approaches.
Will Rory McIlroy Go Back-to-Back?
The only question at this point seems to be which will end first, Rory McIlroy's string of 300-yard-plus drives or his streak of good play?
In truth, the driving streak ended Sunday afternoon on the fourth hole in the final round, but his long game has played a big role in how well he's played lately.
Yes, this is the same Rory McIlroy who, for much of the 2014 season, looked like he was still lost in his malaise of a year ago. As my colleague Joe Menzer put it, "Was it really only three weeks ago that so many of us doubted that Rory McIlroy was on the right path to major glory in the 2014 golf season?"
But he won one of the European Tour's biggest events, the BMW Championship, then The Open Championship at Royal Liverpool and now the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
''Everybody saw it,'' said Sergio Garcia, who had a front-row seat for McIlroy's final round, according to Golf Channel's Doug Ferguson. ''He played very, very well. He drove the ball miles and very, very straight for the most part. He gave himself a lot of birdie looks.''
There are few reasons why McIlroy shouldn't be considered the favorite at Valhalla this week. If he wins, he'll become only the sixth player to win the final two majors of the season.
The last player to do it? Countryman Padraig Harrington in 2008.
How Will Valhalla Golf Club Hold Up?
Valhalla Golf Club has a history with professional golf as it hosts its third major championship this week.
It can be stretched to 7,458 yards and will play to a par 71 with trouble lurking everywhere on this tract of land that once was quarter horse farm and Boy Scout camp.
"It's in perfect shape, not a blade of grass out of play," Adam Scott said after playing it for the first time, per Jennie Rees of The Courier-Journal. "It's a little softer, I'd say, than people may hope for. But there are going to be a lot of good scores.
It hosted the 1996 PGA Championship and almost saw a native Kentuckian win. Kenny Perry appeared to have the tournament locked up. He finished somewhat early and, instead of staying ready in case of a playoff, went to the television broadcast booth to talk about his apparent victory.
Mark Brooks caught Perry and forced a playoff, which Brooks won in sudden death.
The 2000 PGA Championship was held at Valhalla and was one of the most dramatic in history. Tiger Woods and relative unknown Bob May were locked in a great battle, tied for the lead after May shot 31 on the back nine.
But Woods, at the top of his game, won in a three-hole playoff.
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.
And Valhalla has a piece of Ryder Cup U.S. history. It hosted the 2008 edition, which happens to be the only time the Americans have won since 1999.
How Will Kenny Perry Fare in His Return to Valhalla?
He'll be just another guy in the field of 156 players, but Kenny Perry will be a very special guest at this week's PGA Championship.
The 53-year-old Perry, who almost won the 1996 PGA Championship before losing to Mark Brooks in a playoff, was also a key participant in the 2008 Ryder Cup there, the last time the United States won the biennial competition. As a result, he was tendered a special invitation to the PGA Championship this year.
He's become a dominant player on the Champions Tour but isn't all that keen on the idea of winning this week.
"That would be like winning the lottery, finding a needle in a haystack," Perry said to Jennie Rees of The Courier-Journal. "I have limitations now with arthritis, bad knees. I just struggle. I hurt. I have trouble walking 18 holes much less playing 18 holes."
This will most likely be Perry's last major championship, and the Kentuckians will be in out in full force roaring at his every move.
Will Europeans Continue Their PGA Success?
It took a long time—78 years, to be exact—for a European golfer to win the PGA Championship.
Padraig Harrington broke that streak at Oakland Hills in 2008 and that started a nice run for the boys from across the pond. Martin Kaymer won at Whistling Straits in 2010, and Rory McIlroy won at Kiawah in 2012.
So three of the last six PGAs have been won by Europeans, and they certainly appear to have the hottest golfers on the planet heading to Valhalla. McIlroy is playing better than anyone else on the planet, and Sergio Garcia is playing well too. Justin Rose has also been on a roll.
Since Kaymer won the U.S. Open and McIlroy won the British, the Europeans have a chance to do something for the first time ever: win three majors in the same year.
Can Adam Scott Be a Factor This Week?
For the first time since May, Adam Scott is not ranked No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings.
Rory McIlroy passed him with his win at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, becoming No. 1 for the fifth time.
It's not like Scott has been playing badly. Since he ascended to the top spot, here are his results: W, T4, T9, T5, T8.
But in that time, McIlroy started his way back up the world rankings with a win in the European Tour's BMW Championship and has added the British Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Expect Scott to be a factor this week at Valhalla.