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PGA a chance for second tier to shine

The PGA of America has allowed shorts during practice rounds at this week's PGA Championship and Jordan Spieth took advantage.
In the pecking order of the year’s four majors, the PGA is often perceived as the least prestigious but by the time it rolls around each year its position on the schedule tends to produce a sense of urgency among the game’s top players.

The organisation responsible for staging the tournament has mercifully retired the slogan ‘Glory’s Last Shot’ but as overblown as that marketing hype was, it did neatly convey a message that had at least some truth at its core.

While it seems likely all that will change from 2019 with the tournament all but guaranteed to move to May, for the next two years, at least, it remains the players’ last chance.

Irrespective of how it may be viewed in comparison to its Grand Slam brethren, the PGA is a major and, as Tiger Woods once acknowledged so succinctly; “The majors are where it's at.”

And so what is traditionally the strongest field among the ‘Big Four’ will gather this week at the Quail Hollow course in North Carolina to do battle for the year’s final major championship.

While common sense suggests the world’s top 10-20 players are most likely to produce the winner, this tournament, more than the other three, is prone to throw up surprises.

One of the criticisms often made of the PGA is that it lacks identity and tends to be played on courses and set-ups more akin to the weekly PGA Tour, sort of a ‘US Open lite.’

That comfort zone brings more of the game’s weekly grinders into the mix and dulls the advantage of the likes of McIlroy, Johnson, Day, Spieth and company.

It is a given that the game’s household names should be considered among the favourites but, this week, more than any of the other majors, so, too, should the second tier.

Leading that category this year is unquestionably Charley Hoffman, third place-getter at the WGC-Bridgestone tournament and a four-time winner on the American circuit.

Hoffman has dabbled with contention at the majors and is known as one of the game’s more consistent ball-strikers.

He is solid in all departments without truly standing out in any and he is the poster boy for the type of player whose career could be defined by winning the PGA.

Also in this category is our own Marc Leishman (one of seven Australians in the field), the best performed Australian of the 2017 season and a cut above the bulk of his Tour brethren without quite reaching the truly elite category.

Charles Howell III, Alex Noren, Ian Poulter, Bill Haas, Justin Thomas…the list that fit the bill is long and that may be one of the PGA’s biggest appeals.

Of course, 2017 may also be a year that gives us something special, where the winner comes from the list of perennial contenders, a list of the game’s elite who have no shortage of motivation.

Jordan Spieth has the much discussed career Grand Slam up for grabs while Rory McIlroy, already a two-time PGA champion, looks on the verge of something truly special.

The split with long-time caddie J.P Fitzgerald two weeks ago indicates a player who is willing to do whatever necessary to find the last piece of the winning puzzle again and McIlroy in that sort of mood, and driving the ball as well as he did last week in Ohio, is dangerous.

Hideki Matsuyama’s stunning 61 Sunday at the Bridgestone automatically puts him in the conversation but he, like Spieth, is playing for higher stakes in the biggest events.

The 25-year-old is as good as any of his peers and carries the hopes of one of the game’s most obsessed nations on his shoulders.

A win for Hideki would be a win for Japan and the reaction in his home country would make Australia’s response to Adam Scott winning the Masters look like a practice drill.

There are countless other storylines and almost endless possibilities which could unfold in North Carolina this week but what is almost certain is that the year’s last major, as it almost always does, will give us plenty of entertainment.

And that, at the end of the day, is professional golf’s only real purpose.

PREVIEW: 2017 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Rod Morri
About The Author : Rod Morri

Rod is an award-winning golf journalist with more than 20 years experience and has covered everything from major tournaments to junior golf at the local level. Rod began his life in the media as a daily news reporter for News Limited in Sydney.

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