Golf-Five storylines to follow at this week’s PGA Championship

(Reuters) – Five storylines to follow as the best players in the world descend upon Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, this week for the May 18-21 PGA Championship.



Spaniard Jon Rahm, whose Masters triumph in April took him halfway towards completing the career Grand Slam of golf’s four majors, arrives at Oak Hill as the betting favourite.

Rahm’s Masters triumph marked his fourth win of the season and in his last PGA Tour start the Spaniard finished runner-up at the Mexico Open where he was the defending champion.

There are hardly any flaws in Rahm’s game and the world number one, whose best finish at a PGA Championship came in 2018 when he finished in a share of fourth, has found a way to put himself in contention almost everywhere he plays.

At Augusta National, Rahm trailed Brooks Koepka by two shots entering the final round and needed four holes to close the gap, pulled ahead two holes later and never relinquished the lead.

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Just like at the Masters, there will be 18 LIV Golf members in the field at Oak Hill where they will once again look to prove critics wrong following a mostly impressive showing at Augusta National in April.

Twice PGA Championship winners Phil Mickelson and Koepka, who finished joint-second at the Masters, headline a group from the Saudi-backed circuit that includes Cameron Smith, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed.

Koepka took a two-shot lead into the final round of the Masters but faded badly and closed with a disappointing 75 while Mickelson fired his best closing round (65) in the event to vault up the leaderboard.

Given LIV Golf features 54-hole events with 48 players, no cuts and paydays for all, critics wondered whether the circuit’s members could be competitive on the game’s biggest stages, which they have proven is not a problem so far.

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Jordan Spieth, who withdrew from last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson citing a left wrist injury, hopes to tee it up at Oak Hill and make his seventh attempt at completing the coveted career Grand Slam.

In the year’s first major Spieth made a final-round charge up the Masters leaderboard to get within striking distance but an untimely bogey on 18 dashed his chances as he went on to finish in fourth place.

Spieth later said he arrived at the Masters overworked and mentally fatigued after having played eight weeks out of the previous 10 on the PGA Tour.

If Spieth can triumph at the PGA Championship, where his best result was a runner-up showing in 2015, he would join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods in golf’s elite club of those who have completed the Grand Slam.

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Justin Thomas missed the cut at the Masters in April and will now hope a return to the tournament where he has won his two major titles will bring a return to form.

Thomas triumphed at last year’s PGA Championship when he carded a 67 to overcome a seven-shot deficit in the final round at Southern Hills before emerging as the winner in a three-hole aggregate playoff.

In 11 PGA Tour starts this season, Thomas has only managed two top-10 finishes and his best result came three months ago at the Phoenix Open where he finished fourth.

A win this week would put Thomas alongside Woods and Koepka as the only players to successfully defend a PGA Championship title since the event switched to stroke play in 1958.

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Four-times champion Woods will be a notable absentee this week as he continues his recovery from the ankle surgery he had in April to address post-traumatic arthritis related to the injuries he suffered in a February 2021 car crash.

There is no timetable for the 15-time major champion’s return to competition and it is widely expected that he will at least miss the rest of the majors in 2023.

Woods, who has been playing a limited schedule on a rebuilt leg following his car accident, made the cut at the Masters in April but withdrew before the weather-delayed third round resumed and cited a flare-up of his plantar fasciitis.

At last year’s PGA Championship, which was Woods’ second start after the crash, he withdrew after carding a nine-over-par 79 in the third round during which his surgically-repaired right leg appeared to be causing him significant discomfort.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis)