PGA Championship - Kiawah Island ready to snare Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and world’s best

Sandy backdrop: Sheffield’s Matt Fitzpatrick hits out of a bunker on the 15th hole of the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. (Picture: AP)

As Jordan Spieth spoke to the world’s media ahead of the US PGA Championship, his bid to complete the career grand slam might be expected to have been top of the agenda.

Victory at Kiawah Island would, after all, make Spieth just the sixth player after Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods to have won all four major titles.

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The former world No 1 is in superb form too, securing his first victory since the 2017 Open Championship in his native Texas last month and recording six other top-10 finishes from his 10 tournaments in 2021, including a tie for third at the Masters.

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, reacts to a putt on the fifth hole during a practice round at the PGA Championship golf tournament on the Ocean Course in Kiawah Island (AP Photo/Matt York)

Yet Spieth faced just one direct question about the possibility of joining golf’s most exclusive club and far more about the test facing 136 of the world’s best players – and 20 PGA professionals – at Kiawah Island.

The longest in major championship history when it staged the same event in 2012, the Ocean Course lost that claim to fame to US Open venue Chambers Bay in 2015, which was then itself supplanted by Erin Hills two years later.

But adding 200 yards for a monstrous total of 7,876 has regained Kiawah’s place in the record books, just six weeks after Masters chairman Fred Ridley said he hoped the day would never come when any major would be played on a course measuring 8,000 yards.

The windy conditions on South Carolina’s Atlantic coast – which contributed to a second-round scoring average of 78.09 in 2012 –means it is unlikely tournament organisers will stretch the course to its limit, but practice rounds have left every player in no doubt as to the size of their task.

Jordan Spieth tees off on the fourth hole during a practice round at the PGA Championship golf tournament. (AP Photo/Matt York)

“If the wind blows this way for the rest of the week, it’s going to be a battle to just get in the clubhouse,” former Masters champion Adam Scott said.

“One (major) that comes to mind of just surviving was when Geoff Ogilvy won the US Open (in 2006). He was the only guy to play the last four holes in par that day, I believe, and it could be something similar for anybody kind of near the lead.

“It is a long course, but the wind... when you stand on 16 and it’s 608 yards, it’s playing like 750, and it’s probably numbers that we’ll never hopefully see on golf courses.

“But that’s what it’s playing like.”

Aside from the challenge of the course and Spieth’s grand slam bid, 2012 winner Rory McIlroy returns to the scene of his eight-shot victory buoyed by victory in the Wells Fargo Championship on his last start, but seeking a first major since lifting the Wanamaker Trophy for the second time in 2014.

US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau’s massive hitting should be tailor-made for the venue, although questions remain over how he will cope with the windy conditions.

The current world No 1 Dustin Johnson, who would join McIlroy and Spieth in having three legs of the grand slam with a victory, pulled out of the AT&T Byron Nelson citing “knee discomfort” and missed the cut in his title defence at the Masters.

And two-time winner Brooks Koepka is also several months away from full fitness after undergoing surgery on March 16 to deal with a knee cap dislocation and ligament damage.

Or will the champion be part of the new breed of American golfers who are coming out of college fearless and primed for victory.

Collin Morikawa proved that theory in winning the PGA from Paul Casey at Harding Park last August is what was his first tournament win. Viktor Hovland, the Norwegian who is another product of the US collegiate system, is fancied to make his major breakthrough at Kiawah Island.

Lee Westwood, Danny Willett, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Casey and Justin Rose lead the English challenge, each man looking to be the first from England since Jim Barnes to win the US PGA Championship, a feat he managed for the second time in 1919.

The notion of a course as long as Kiawah Island would have been unimaginable back then.

Perhaps, as Scott suggests, it will truly be a case of survival of the fittest.

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