Think Rory will win at Valhalla? Think again...
The year's last Major and also the richest of the four Majors, the PGA Championship, tees off later on Thursday at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. The course is steeped in history and tradition and was named for Valhalla, the mythical Hall of Odin, which according to Nordic folklore was the place where the souls of Vikings feasted and celebrated with their gods. It's a dramatic name befitting the arena that will host the world's top golfers.
Valhalla was designed by Jack Nicklaus (think bunkers and lots of them, and then think greens as complex as a Rubik's cube) and has played host to two previous PGA Championships, two Senior PGA Championships and the 2008 Ryder Cup where the USA beat Europe for the first time since 1999. This is a layout that will ask several questions of the 156 players and a "correct" answer on one particular day doesn't necessarily mean it will be correct on another.
At the sharp end of Valhalla's challenge are its greens and bunkers. The greens are multi-tiered and tricky to judge and read, and players will do well to have practiced their long-range putting because this will be something they will frequently face. Added to this challenge from the greens will be the extra challenge of distance control from the players. It's difficult enough to judge a slope or break standing on the green itself, now stand out on the fairway at about 130 metres out and that challenge multiplies exponentially. Players will not be able to merely hit into the green or even go for the flag because these greens with their various levels will shrug it off as if it were an irritating fly.
If there's one thing that's true of a Nicklaus-design golf course, it's that it is covered in bunkers. The ones at Valhalla suggest though that Jack was feeling particularly spiteful on the day he worked on this design - they are deep and positioned well below the putting surface, and will place a premium on high-risk open face bunker shots where the players will do well to get it up quickly and onto the green…and as I mentioned earlier that's where the challenge starts all over again.
But that's enough about the course, let's take a look at the players and see who we should be looking out for…
And let's start with former world number one (now number 10) Tiger Woods. I was fortunate to see him up close at the Open just a few weeks ago and also spend time watching him on the range at Royal Liverpool, and stand toe-to-toe with him after one press conference. He looked in good nick to me, fit and strong, and his golf (on day one in particular) showed signs of his former greatness. However, he shot three rounds of 70+ and never mounted even a halfway serious challenge even though he said he came to win.
Then last week at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational he cried off injured and couldn't complete his last round. He'll be at Valhalla this week but will he be there come the Sunday tee times is anybody's guess…I don't see him being amongst the challengers this weekend unfortunately.
So then who will be?
New world number one Rory McIlroy said at Royal Liverpool that he wakes up these days and all he thinks about is how many Majors he can win. He wasn't being arrogant. He was just setting himself goals and telling us that he was ready to step up and lead the golfing world into its next phase. He must be the overwhelming favourite to become the first man since Padraig Harrington did it in 2008 to win back-to-back Majors. Statistics though are a terrible thing and it seems that Majors, never mind the PGA Championship, are seldom won by world number one's - only Tiger Woods and Fred Couples have achieved that feat.
So then who?
I quite like the form of Australia's Marc Leishman and South Africa's Charl Schwartzel, and will not be surprised to see them put in a big challenge over the next four days at Valhalla, and even walk away with the Wanamaker Trophy.
But if I had to pick one player to win on Sunday it would be Sergio Garcia. His form is undeniable, his mental approach is solid, and he's had enough of this "coming second" nonsense. He exposed chinks in the McIlroy armour when he almost chased him down at the Open, but then admittedly showed similar chinks when he was leading at Firestone Country Club last week. No matter! He is ready! His game is ready!
There are eight South Africans playing and I want to highlight two of them - Ernie Els will be itching to put that horror first round at Royal Liverpool behind him and show what he would've done had he not been so badly, and understandably rattled by the injury to the spectator he struck by accident.
Then there's George Coetzee - he picked up a top 20 finish at Royal Liverpool and would have gained a lot of experience and confidence from the event and slightly more rarified groupings he found himself in. I don't expect to see him win come Sunday, but I do expect another strong, gutsy showing from George.
The weather for the next few days suggests lots rain and thundershowers mixed in with temperatures in the high 20s and mid 30s. The damp and humid conditions will only add to the complexity of the layout, but that's what we want…this is a Major after all!
Jeremy Harris is a sports anchor at 94,5Kfm and 567 Cape Talk. He is a keen golfer and plays off a six at his home club, Arabella. He is the voice of the Sunshine Tour weekly highlights and monthly magazine programmes on SuperSport. You can follow him on twitter @jeremyharris55.