Salvation for golf’s purists, irked by the Saudi Arabian themes dominating their sport, may arrive in the form of a 28-year-old from Dallas. Should Jordan Spieth lift the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday evening, a career grand slam complete, there will be an appealing narrative to at least momentarily offset incessant chatter about breakaway tours, human rights and golf’s persona non grata, Phil The Shill.
Spieth arrived at Southern Hills in the kind of form that suggests this is his finest chance yet to add the US PGA Championship to the Masters, US Open and Open. He would become only the sixth man in history to win each of golf’s big four. It is to Spieth’s credit that he fully embraces another tilt at history-making.
“Certainly at this point, having won the other three, it’s an elephant in the room for me,” Spieth said. “It’s a goal of mine. If you just told me I was going to win one tournament the rest of my life, I’d say I want to win this one, given where things are at. If you told me that before my career started I was going to win one tournament ever, I’d say the Masters because that was my favourite tournament growing up.
“Things change, and this obviously has significant meaning. Long term, it would be really cool to say that you captured the four biggest golf tournaments in the world that are played in different parts of the world and different styles, too. So you feel like you kind of accomplished golf when you win a career grand slam.
“I have come close a couple times. This hasn’t necessarily been my most successful major but I feel good heading into this week.”
Spieth has won the RBC Heritage and finished second at the Byron Nelson since a surprise missed cut at the Masters. Augusta National proved a head-scratcher for the man himself. “Friday’s round, I shot 76 and I can’t tell you that I missed a shot,” he said. “It was bizarre. I just really didn’t feel like I did much wrong. I’ve had weeks like that before. You just hope that they’re not at the Masters.”
By his own admission, the old Spieth would have sought technical change after playing just 36 holes in Georgia. His slump after winning the 2017 Open renders a subsequent return to the summit of golf all the more admirable.
Spieth is back inside the world’s top 10, having been 92nd in early 2021. Spieth, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy leap out as the tournament’s marquee grouping for the first two rounds here. The trio have just the 22 majors between them.
“They’re both just great to play with,” said Spieth. “They’re quick. They’re positive. I think you’ve got to embrace it and have fun and recognise these are the kind of pairings I’ll get to tell my kid about some day: ‘I got to play with Tiger in a major.’
“Last year, you weren’t sure if that was ever going to happen again. I know it’s great for golf, but selfishly it’s pretty exciting to be able to play these events growing up with the guy that you idolised.”
McIlroy’s form and mood look positive as he pursues a first major triumph since 2014. Jon Rahm’s touch around the greens should be a huge Southern Hills advantage. Shane Lowry has said he is “quietly confident” about his prospects of victory.
Only 98 days sit between the final round of the Phoenix Open and the same point in this US PGA. If Scottie Scheffler prevails in Tulsa, he will have won five times in that window. “When I show up to tournaments, I don’t feel any different,” insisted the Masters champion.
Searing temperatures, brisk winds and crossover holes mean pace of play will inevitably be an issue. It would be no shock, in fact, if the second round rumbles into early on Saturday even without weather delays. Southern Hills offers a stern physical test.
As if to prove thoughts of Saudi are never far away, Richard Bland delivered a blunt response when asked whether he had second thoughts over competing in their $25m event in Hertfordshire next month. The European Tour will not grant permission for members such as Bland to feature.
“I am going to play,” said Bland. “If I get banned, I get banned. Most of my career is behind me now as regards playing at the very highest level. I’m 50 years old in six months.
“I’m a realist. Mother Nature does tend to catch up on you. I have an opportunity to play these events and secure my future and I’d be pretty foolish to turn that down.”
Thankfully the likes of Spieth value professional legacy over cheques.
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