Expectations for the PGA Championship, like the Masters, have been rising for the past few weeks. And just like the last major, there was more hype about who played than who had a chance to win.
Tiger Woods not only played Augusta National, he cut.
Phil Mickelson will also miss the first T20 in the Southern Hills.
Read more: Violent fans boot from Suncorp Stadium
Read more: Norman’s rebel league still claims the biggest victim
Read more: The reason for the AFL’s ‘ridiculous’ crackdown
Six days before the opening round of the Tulsa, Oklahoma Classic course, Mickelson decided not to defend his title and to extend his three-month break from golf.
And to think that it was just a year ago when Mickelson celebrated one of the most spectacular feats of the Majors in 161 years. He won the PGA Championship on Kiawah Island at the age of 50, becoming the oldest major golf champion.
The last PGA champion who did not defend was Woods in 2008 as he recovered from reconstructive surgery on his left knee. The first was Ben Hogan in 1949, who was killed about four months ago when a bus hit his car in West Texas.
Mickelson’s injuries were even more self-inflicted. He kept everyone guessing when he signed up for the PGA Championship on April 25, although it was a matter of procedure. His manager said Lefty only left his options open and then he closed them on Friday.
“I personally think it’s an incredible emotional challenge to come back and play after he’s thrown himself. I don’t think it’s as easy as getting back on the bike and getting to the golf tournament,” said six-time Major. Champion and CBS analyst Nick Faldo.
Mickelson is sure to be a subject one way or another. Mickelson’s unapproved biography of Alan Shiponk will be released on Tuesday.
His public image was shattered in February when Shipnock published a portion of his book in which Mickelson outlined his involvement with the Saudi-funded rival league.
He dismissed talk of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination and Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, saying it was worthwhile to have leverage to change how the PGA Tour works. He even said that he hired three more players to pay the lawyers to write the new league’s operating contract.
Top sponsors dropped him, Mickelson released a statement that read more like an explanation than an apology, and said he needed “desperate” time.
It remains to be seen when he will return. The statistics of his absence are brilliant, one of several majors subplots that conspire before the first shot is fired.
Woods has not announced for sure that he will play another major, although he was in Tulsa last week to play – and walk – a practice round, and if he does not play, it will be a surprise. Woods last won the PGA Championship in Southern Hills in 2007.
It’s not exactly the same course. Gil Hans and Jim Wagner have completed a restoration project in the Southern Hills that has turned the course into a modern experiment without losing the charm of the original Perry Maxwell design.
In addition to bringing back a creek cut through the 10th and 17th fairways, the edges of the greens now move away from the putty surface without going to the center, which puts a premium pin on the fairway and depending on the right angle.
Woods has cast such a huge shadow over the sport for so long that it is easy to overlook the strongest field among the four majors and those who have the best chance of lifting the 27-pound one-maker trophy.
It starts with a pair of Texans who cross the Red River to chase different versions of the Grand Slam.
Masters champion Scott Scheffler has a long way to go, and while he rarely thinks about anything beyond the next shot, he probably knows that only three players in the last 20 years have won the first two major of the year.
Still, he has caught everyone’s eye in the last four months with his four major titles that have made him number one in the world.
“He’s setting the bar high right now and he’s a chase for all of us,” said Will Galatoris. “What he’s doing is Borderline Tigersk. It’s pretty good to see.”
Jordan Spith is chasing a career grand slam. This is his sixth shot at the Wanamekar Trophy since taking the third leg at the 2017 British Open, and it could be his best chance. His swing is getting closer to where he can be trusted, and his confidence was boosted by his play-off win at Hilton Head a month ago.
Spith and Justin Thomas stopped at Southern Hills earlier in the week. Spith last played it in 2009, when he lost in the big play-offs for the final four places in the US Amateur. He shot 75. He shot 16.
And so much has changed, especially with the southern hills.
The most notable part of the restoration was the edges of the greens to create a shot funnel from the putty surface. Spith felt that the targets were smaller than they looked. And with a hydraulic system under the greens that allows for greater control of turf firmness, Spith is expecting a precise test.
“I think it’s going to be one of the highest scoring PGA’s we’ve ever seen,” he said.
Southern Hills has hosted its eighth major since 1958 – three US Open – and the last five champions are in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
It was not supposed to host PGA until 2030 This year’s championship was set for a course in former President Donald Trump’s Bedminster, New Jersey. But four days after the violent uprising in the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when Congress was ratifying the presidential election, the U.S. PGA unanimously voted to move it to the South Hills.
Avoid what it might feel like a circus. And with Mickelson no longer on the field, the PGA Championship has avoided a different diversity.
To get the best breaking news and daily dose of exclusive content from the Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter Click here!