By Steve Keating
ROCHESTER, New York (Reuters) – The PGA Tour and LIV Golf take their feud to Oak Hill Country Club for the PGA Championship this week with the Saudi-bankrolled rebel circuit again seeking major validation.
Last month at Augusta National, LIV Golf had looked poised to pull off what would have been a marketing coup with one of their members walking off with a Masters Green Jacket.
That was until world number one Spaniard Jon Rahm came to the PGA Tour’s rescue, finishing top of the leaderboard to leave Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson runners-up.
Like the Masters there will be 18 LIV members in the field led by twice PGA Championship winners Koepka and 52-year-old Mickelson and Australian Cameron Smith, who signed on with LIV after winning last year’s British Open.
Rahm, who has four wins this season, might be called on again to hold the line against a LIV contingent but will have plenty of backup in a quality 156-player field that features 99 of the top 100 in the world golf rankings but does not include Tiger Woods.
Four-times champion Woods will sit out the year’s second major 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.
Rahm and world number two Scottie Scheffler both are in top form coming into Rochester.
Scheffler, twice a winner this year, warmed up for Oak Hill with a tie for fifth at the Byron Nelson on Sunday while Rahm had a runner-up finish in his last start the Mexico Open.
“The things that I wanted to improve on over the last three weeks, I feel like I did a good job,” said Scheffler. “I didn’t swing it my best this weekend, but I’m sure that’ll be an easy fix going into next week.”
Not to be overlooked is world number five Xander Schauffele, who is winless this season, but has top four results in his past three starts including a second in his last the Wells Fargo Championship.
Australian Jason Day will also be carrying some momentum into Oak Hill with the 2015 PGA champion ending a five-year title drought with his win at the Bryon Nelson.
“After this week I know that I can win,” said Day. “There’s a few subtle things that I have to change technically to feel like I can actually come out and dominate and play very consistent golf.”
After missing the cut at the Masters there are questions hanging over Rory McIlroy’s form.
The Northern Irishman took three weeks off to refocus following his Augusta disappointment, a decision that saw the world number three forfeit $3 million of his Player Impact Performance earnings when he withdrew from a second designated event.
McIlroy appears to still be in a bit of a competitive funk finishing in a tie for 47th in his only start since the Masters.
Justin Thomas has produced some of his best golf at the PGA Championship winning the major twice, including last year when he overcame a seven-shot deficit in the final round before prevailing in a playoff.
But the 30-year-old American has not won since and has just two top 10 finishes this season.
Jordan Spieth’s fitness is also a concern as he attempts for a seventh time to complete the career Grand Slam.
Spieth, who withdrew from the Byron Nelson citing a left wrist injury, needs only a PGA Championship to join the elite club that includes, Woods, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Rochester. Editing by Christian Radnedge)