AKRON, Ohio – Somewhere in America, a golf fan just stepped off a cruise ship, returning from a nice, relaxing vacation.
Or perhaps he spent the last week camping, connecting with nature but detaching from modern technology.
Either way, the respite might have proven worthwhile. But once he fires up his phone he’ll have some serious catching up to do.
Consider all that has transpired in the world of golf in the past seven days:
• Phil Mickelson explained that a good performance would have to come from “out of nowhere,” and then shot a 62 the next day.
• Sergio Garcia knocked the diamond off of one woman’s ring just days after apprently putting one on another woman’s finger.
• Rory McIlroy went from one of the game’s best players coming off a big win to … well, maybe that one didn’t change much.
It was a year’s worth of breaking news compressed into a week-long stretch, capped by a shining performance from the new world No. 1.
And that was just the appetizer.
Now the attention shifts to the Bluegrass State, where the stars have aligned to produce one of the year’s most compelling events.
The PGA Championship has long been seen as fourth in prestige and intrigue among golf’s majors, but it now has the opportunity to stand above its championship brethren after the first three majors of the year produced less-than-compelling conclusions.
Admit it: the majors this year have been a snooze-fest. Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer and McIlroy are all deserving champions, but none of the three had to sweat much coming down the stretch in claiming their respective majors, winning by a combined 13 shots. In fact, golf fans have now toiled through six consecutive majors without so much as a one-shot margin of victory – the longest such streak since 1981.
That could all end this week at Valhalla Golf Club, where two previous installments of the season’s final major ended in overtime and where the best in the game enter with some serious momentum.
Any pre-tournament conversation will begin with McIlroy, a deserved odds-on favorite after wins at Royal Liverpool and Firestone vaulted him back to the top spot in the OWGR. But he’s not the only big name playing good golf right now.
Adam Scott relinquished the No. 1 ranking to McIlroy despite the fact that his entire reign, which dated back to May, featured five starts with no result worse than a tie for ninth at Pinehurst.
Garcia and Rickie Fowler are battling each other for the season’s silver medal. Garcia came up short again to McIlroy at the WGC-Bridgestone after sharing second place behind him at Hoylake, while Fowler could become the first player to crack the top five in all four majors since Woods did so in 2005.
Then there’s Justin Rose, who had back-to-back wins last month but slacked off by only finishing T-4 in Akron.
Players speak about peaking for majors, a notion that is easy to understand but hard to quantify. The leaderboard last week at Firestone was an example that sometimes the best in the game can do that, with four of the top five players in the world in contention heading into the final round.
It produced a captivating event, albeit one that was overshadowed by off-course conjecture. A similar scenario could play out this week in Kentucky, with the news cycle focusing on two players who may not tee it up at Valhalla.
Johnson’s self-described leave of absence for “personal struggles” will keep him out this week, and for the foreseeable future. Woods’ prognosis is less certain following his Firestone withdrawal, when his bad back reared its head.
Those storylines are certainly packed with intrigue, but even if Woods misses another major – his third of the season – there are still plenty of reasons to remain glued to the coverage this week.
To recap: the best players are playing their best golf; they’re headed to a venue that has a history of exciting conclusions; and, if we’re lucky, we might see a player standing over a putt on the 72nd hole with a trophy hanging in the balance.
Which means you should probably bump that vacation to a different week.