US PGA Championship 2015: Four groupings to catch the eye

Liam Carroll looks at four groupings that are certain to be under the Lake Michigan spotlight at Whistling Straits

By Liam Carroll

The curtains of the year’s fourth and final major will be raised at 6:45am (CDT) (12:45pm BST) as the six early risers tee off at the 2015 US PGA Championships.

Here, we look at four groupings that are certain to be under the Lake Michigan spotlight at Whistling Straits.

Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Zach Johnson (1:20pm CDT on Thursday, 8:05am CDT on Friday)

Oh boy. What can we say about this marquee trio?

On the release of the tee times last Friday, this grouping jumped off the page for three reasons.

1. McIlroy may well be playing!
2. Three of the in-form golfers on show!
And 3. The Spieth-McIlroy rivalry is back on track!

Ok, maybe I got a little bit too excited…

An intriguing preamble to the tournament was whether Rory McIlroy would be competing after nearly two months off the range, and if he were to compete, how he would fare after such a prolonged absence. In the lead up to the tee times, McIlroy had dropped several hints on social media as to his imminent reappearance to the golfing stage, but his participation was not certain. His inclusion on the roster tilted the balance in the favour of the public viewing him teeing off on Thursday in Wisconsin, in what would be his first appearance since the US Open in June.

Secondly, this grouping is composed of the planet’s three in form golfers. If one had access to each of these golfer’s living rooms and silverware on show, one could muster up a Grand Slam, with Jordan Spieth winning both the Masters and US Open in April and June respectively, Zach Johnson holding the Claret Jug after his Open Championship victory last month, and Rory McIlroy entering the fold as the reigning PGA Championship winner and holder of the Wanamaker Trophy. Zach may have been considered a rank outsider in winning at St. Andrews, but has finished in the top ten of nine events this year.

It also represents the highest ranking grouping at the event, containing the world’s number one, number two and number twelve ranked players. McIlroy has topped the Official World Golf Rankings for 93 weeks, though the outcome of this tournament could result in a change of the guard.

Spieth will take over the mantle and displace McIlroy from the summit if he wins at Whistling Straits and McIlroy is not second alone. Otherwise, Spieth could move to number one if he wins and McIlroy finishes tied for second or lower, if he finishes no worse than second alone and McIlroy finishes outside of the top six, if he finishes no worse than tied for second with one or two others and McIlroy finishes outside of the top 13 or 33 respectively, or if he finishes third alone and McIlroy fails to make the cut.

Golf is certainly the winner as McIlroy steps back in the fold after injury. The two favourites are ready to do battle at Whistling Straits in what is set to be the latest duel in the ever developing and ever intriguing Spieth/McIlroy rivalry. Fortunately they will be head-to-head on Thursday and Friday this week. Who is to say that they won’t be head-to-head come the weekend?

Paddy Power is paying out on the first six places in the US PGA Championship

Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson (8:05am CDT on Thursday, 1:20pm CDT on Friday)

I’ve heard it said that one cannot soar with the eagles if one is hanging with the turkeys. It is far from the case that this trio resembles a rafter of turkeys, far from it, but there is an element of poignancy to this grouping. It is not purely the fact that no player in this pairing is yet to claim a major, it is how tantalisingly close all three have come to major victory in recent times.

Cumulatively, they account for an abundance of near finishes at majors; nine top ten placings a piece. When we drill further, they bear the wounds of seven second place finishes, and fifteen in the top five. The wounds of these near misses weren’t borne solely by their finishing position, but rather the degree to which they snatched at victory. The three are relative youngsters however (26, 27 and 31 years old respectively), so at some point the experiences gained from so often being in contention will serve them well.

We consider each of these players contenders (see yesterday’s Five to watch article), so don’t be surprised if your US PGA Championship winner 2015 emerges from this grouping. Let’s hope that their recent heartbreak encounters at majors serve as impetuses and platforms for success, rather than preoccupations and distractions. It is only a matter of time before these three pick off major victories, and perhaps the last time of asking in 2015 is where one of these three will finally break the duck.

Tiger Woods, Martin Kaymer, and Keegan Bradley (8:15am CDT on Thursday, 1:30pm CDT on Friday)

This trio reigned supreme in the autumns of the late noughties. Between them, they were responsible for four PGA Championship victories in the six events between 2006 and 2011, with Tiger winning twice (2006 and 2007), Martin the winner last time out at Whistling Straits in 2010, and Keegan in 2011 at Atlanta Athletic Club.

It’s been a mixed couple of years for the trio since this period of dominance, with Tiger only winning one major since then (US Open in 2008) and subsequently plummeting down the rankings, Keegan managing a couple of top five finishes, and Kaymer, though winning the US Open last year, enduring a stop-start 2015. Kaymer claimed the Wanamaker Trophy at this Whistling Straits venue in 2010, and will certainly be hopeful that he can this week channel the spirits of his victory here.

Analysing as to whether Kaymer can stake a claim for victory on the 2010 foundation will be fascinating, as will following Americans Bradley and Woods as they aim to emerge from the years in golf’s doldrums.

Jason Dufner, Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington (1:30pm CDT on Thursday, 8:15am CDT on Friday)

It’s a case of three more former US PGA Championship winners coming together in this grouping. Two of the three were key components of the last couple of championships, with Dufner claiming victory at Oak Hill in 2013, and Phil Mickelson losing out by a solitary stroke to Rory McIlroy at Valhalla last year. In that 2015 tournament, Mickelson shot a final round five under par 66, including four birdies on the front nine. Mickelson is a previous winner in this event at Baltusrol in 2005, and also finished runner to David Toms in 2001.

Neither Dufner nor Mickelson have hit top gear this year, an issue that they will be all out remedy this week. Padraig Harrington, though battling a knee injury, has shown some form this year, winning the Honda Classic in February before finding himself in contention for some time at the Open Championship in July. The grouping of these three veterans is intriguing, and at 38, 45 and 43 respectively, they will be eager to demonstrate that their best years are far from behind them.

And finally – an honorable mention must go to the Pablo Larrazabal (Spain), Camilo Villegas (Colombia) and Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Thailand) grouping, as the only pairing without the inclusion of an American. Let’s see how they fare in Wisconsin without an American to join them at the tee.

Paddy Power is paying out on the first six places in the US PGA Championship

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