History on line in PGA Championship at Quail Hollow
The PGA Tour is chock full of big hitters, players who can really move the ball off the tee and leave even their hyper-talented fellow competitors shaking their heads and eating some crow.
This week's PGA Championship will favor golfers who can hit it high and long thanks to a revamped and lengthened golf course that's been pummeled by rain over the past week. A field of 156 players, including each of the top-10 ranked golfers in the world, will challenge beefed-up Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., beginning Thursday in search of the season's fourth major championship.
On the line is a total purse of $10.5 million. The winner will not only hoist the Wanamaker trophy on Sunday but will also pocket $1.89 million and 600 FedExCup points.
The overall length at Quail Hollow, which was originally routed by George Cobb in 1961, modified by Arnold Palmer in 1986 and re-designed by Tom Fazio in 1997, 2003 and 2016, has been increased to 7,575 yards while par has dropped from 72 to 71.
Jimmy Walker is the defending tournament champion -- and he's one of the PGA Tour's bigger hitters -- but all the talk this week has surrounded three players. One has a history of success here; another is the top-ranked golfer in the world but is without a major win in 2017; and the third can put himself on the short list of all-time greats with a victory in the PGA Championship.
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy won his first PGA Tour title here at the Wells Fargo Championship in 2010 and added a seven-shot victory in 2015. He owns more course records here (two) than finishes outside the top 10 (one), and the PGA Championship is the only major he's won multiple times (in 2012 and 2014).
McIlroy, who does not have a PGA Tour win in 2017, has been, understandably, foaming at the bit to tee it up here this week. He comes in with some momentum after finishing tied for fourth at the Open Championship and tied for fifth last week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
"I've had a lot of success here before and I've always played well here," McIlroy said. "I've always felt comfortable on this golf course. This has been a week I've been looking forward to for a long time and I'm glad it's here and I'm glad I'm showing up for this week feeling like my game is in good shape, as well."
Dustin Johnson, who has held the world No. 1 ranking for 25 straight weeks, thinks his game has rounded back into the form that he enjoyed when he won three events in a row prior to the Masters. He's one of the longest hitters on tour and feels that the course, its conditioning and its setup will work in his favor as he chases his first major of the season.
"I felt like I got some things worked out in the swing that were just holding me back a little bit," Johnson said. "Right now, I feel it's close to when I was playing really well before Augusta than I have ... since then. The golf swing is there. I feel good. My body feels great. I'm looking for a really good week this week.
"Obviously, it's a major championship," Johnson added. "It's a tournament that I would definitely like to win, and I feel like there's no better week than this one."
And then there's Jordan Spieth, who won the Open Championship three weeks ago and heads to Charlotte hunting his first PGA Championship and the career Grand Slam that he would achieve if he earns the title this week. At 24, he'd become the youngest player to perform the feat.
"Expectations? I really don't feel any," Spieth said. "This is a chance to complete the career Grand Slam. I'm here, so I'm going to go ahead and try. But I believe I'm going to have plenty of chances, and I'm young enough to believe in my abilities that it will happen at some point."
Tiger Woods (15) and Spieth (11) are the only players in the modern era with 10 or more PGA Tour wins before the age of 24.
"The golf course is extremely challenging," said Spieth. "I don't think it puts me at a significant disadvantage or disadvantage in any way for me to say that it's the golf course. That's what I'm playing against. The biggest challenge in winning is going to be the incredible talent that's out there this week."
Quail Hollow will have a different look, and a new set of challenges, than it did the last time a tour event was held here in June 2016.
Under Fazio's guidance, Quail Hollow built or renovated four holes, overhauled fairways and reshaped greens. There also are added areas for grandstands and spectators while thousands of trees have been removed.
"There's a couple of changes at the start of the golf course," McIlroy said. "It used to be you got through the first five holes here at 1 or 2 under par and that was a decent start, and now you get through the first five holes at even par and that's when the golf course starts to open up for you.
"I still feel like the golf course gives you plenty of chances. It's going to play long this week with the weather. Obviously there's been a lot of rain over the last couple of days. It will probably play a couple of strokes harder than it used to play, especially with the par going from a 72 to a 71."
Updated August 9, 2017