It is often considered the poor cousin of the four men’s major championships, however, the PGA Championship in 2022 sits as one of most anticipated and covered events in recent memory.
Yes, some of the reasons for the attention are undesirable, particularly the ongoing Saudi circus that has played a role in the defending champion Phil Mickelson not teeing it up. But there is also Tiger Woods’ second start, a restored course with a deep major history and a wealth of other storylines.
The tournament was not supposed to be played at Southern Hills, instead the event scheduled to mark a Donald Trump owned course making its debut as a men’s major host before the storming of the Captiol in Washington D.C. gave the PGA of America cause to reconsider.
A late call up not as big of an issue for this week’s host, that welcomed a senior major in 2021 and is built for big time golf after it was renovated.
Mickelson will hog much of the early attention for the fact that he is not in Oklahoma, so too will Woods who claims he is stronger than at Augusta, then there is Jordan Spieth’s ongoing chase of a career grand slam and the World No.1 and most recent major winner’s fondness and familiarity with the course.
RIGHT: Phil Mickelson won the PGA in 2022 in historic fashion but the 51-year-old won't defend the title this week. PHOTO: Patrick Smith/Getty Images.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: It was one of the more unbelievable major results in the history of the game when, just shy of his 51st birthday, Phil Mickelson stared down Brooks Koepka and Kiawah Island to win the PGA Championship in 2021.
Having not being a factor on the PGA Tour in the leadup, the left hander started well and played the game like a man much younger than his age, hitting the ball a long way and hiding a steely determination behind his mirrored sunglasses.
Mickelson took a share of the lead at the halfway point with Louis Oosthuizen before a third round of 70 elevated him to top spot alone through 54 holes, leading by one shot over Koepka.
A Sunday 73 left Mickelson at six-under two shots clear of Koepka and Oosthuizen and surrounded by fans as he made his way up the 72nd hole to become the oldest men’s major winner in one of the most celebrated PGA Championships in history.
Since that time Mickelson’s comments on Saudi Arabia, LIV Golf and the PGA Tour have led to him taking time away from the game and as of Friday withdrawing from defending his title this week.
COURSE: Previously hosting seven men’s majors, Southern Hills Country Club will present a different test this week, somewhat negating the advantage of the 17 players returning from the 2007 PGA played here when Tiger Woods emerged victorious.
Originally designed by Perry Maxwell and opened in 1936, Southern Hills lies inside the city limits of Tulsa, Oklahoma and underwent a restoration at the hands of Gil Hanse that was completed in 2019.
Clearing of trees and changing of mowing lines has opened the course up, but make no mistake, Southern Hills remains a tight test from the tee with juicy rough (cut to one length) lining the short grass.
The greens have been enlarged, yet will actually play smaller with steep drop-offs around the putting surfaces that are no longer ringed by long grass but instead closely mown areas.
The greens are likely to be slower than regularly seen at majors, with the heavily sloping surfaces creating much of the trouble, and new Pure Distinction bentgrass greens possessing a cooling system underneath to control them during hotter weather.
The restoration also saw the course lengthened, allowing players this week to “choose their own adventure” from the tee, with driver a much more viable option.
Playing to a par of 70 this week, Southern Hills will measure 7,556 yards with additional bunkers added in 2019 and water in play on the majority of holes, the two par-5s measuring in excess of 630 yards.
The back nine is where Southern Hills shines, its par-4 10th always interesting, the dogleg par-4 12th that now measures 461 yards considered one of the best two shotters in America and the stern 18th at nearly 500 yards meaning a tournament is not done until the ball is in the final cup.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Once again Tiger Woods poses as an interesting concept this week, where thanks to his career long rival’s absence he is getting a slightly less intensive following so far this week.
Woods hasn’t teed it up since his worst finish at The Masters, where simply playing was an achievement, but believes he is stronger and will benefit from a less strenuous walk than he had to endure at Augusta National.
Tiger’s game showed glimpses of quality in April, and it will be interesting to see where his game is at a venue he has won a major before and has plenty of experience and made a scouting trip to a few weeks ago with the head pro taking on caddie duties to help learn the renovated layout.
The man who won at Augusta, Scottie Scheffler, is a significant chance to go back-to-back in the majors this week.
Playing lightly since his green jacket success, Scheffler was T15 last week in Texas, and lists Southern Hills as one of his favourite golf courses.
Approach play and chipping will be key this week, and Scheffler is very adept at both suggesting another good major finish from the World No.1 could be on the cards.
Since flying home on Sunday at The Masters, Rory McIlroy has played just once, finishing fifth a fortnight ago at the Wells Fargo.
McIlroy hasn’t teed it up competitively at Southern Hills but was impressed during a practice round earlier this week, and he is surely burning inside over his major drought that now dates back to 2014.
Jon Rahm is another of the lightly raced horses here, the Spaniard recording a win in Mexico in his last start.
With plenty of attention elsewhere, Rahm will be quietly going about his chase for a second major with his putter being the likely deciding factor in whether he can lift the Wanamaker Trophy.
RIGHT: World No.1 Scottie Scheffler considers Southern Hills one of his favourite courses and is a likely factor this week. PHOTO: Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images.
Of the other usual suspects, Collin Morikawa shapes as a big chance here on the strength of his iron play that Tiger used so well to win here in 2007 and is fast becoming a perennial major contender.
Jordan Spieth’s name is always mentioned during PGA Championship week as he chases the full set of men’s majors and this week is arguably one of his better chances.
Following a surprising missed cut at The Masters, Spieth won the following week at the RBC Heritage and was runner-up last week at the Byron Nelson.
Spieth’s game is firing at the moment and his work on his golf swing is paying dividends so far in 2022.
Of the Australians, Cam Smith leads the charge again having risen inside the top-five of the world rankings on the back of victory at The Players and his near miss at Augusta.
Smith has slowed a little since Augusta, but his wedge play and short game will be significant assets around Southern Hills.
Adam Scott continues to show promising signs of late, but has yet to really string together four good rounds to be right in contention on the PGA Tour this season. Scott’s ball striking suits the challenge presented this week, but the driver is going to be key for the Queenslander, so too for Marc Leishman who told Golf Australia magazine Smith’s play had inspired him for a recent preview of this event.
72-HOLE RECORD: 264 (Brooks Koepka, 2018)
18-HOLE RECORD: 63 (Tiger Woods, 2007 & Nick Price, 1982)
PAST AUSSIE WINNERS: Jason Day (2015), Steve Elkington (1995), Wayne Grady (1990), David Graham (1979), Jim Ferrier (1947)
AUSTRALIANS IN THE FIELD: Cam Davis, Jason Day, Lucas Herbert, Matt Jones, Min Woo Lee, Marc Leishman, Adam Scott, Cam Smith.
Round 1: Friday (Fox Sports 503 4am – 10am) and Featured Groups from 10pm Thursday.
Round 2: Saturday (Fox Sports 503 4am – 10am) and Featured Groups from 10pm Friday.
Round 3: Sunday (Fox Sports 503 3am – 9am) and Featured Groups from 10:30pm Saturday.
Round 4: Monday (Fox Sports 503 3am – 9am)
*AEST, check local guides