Johnson, Spieth and Matsuyama among five to watch at the PGA Championship

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Who will reign at Quail Hollow this weekend?

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Jordan Spieth

Second-ranked Spieth won last month’s British Open for his third career major title after the 2015 Masters and US Open and at 24 could become the youngest player to complete a Career Grand Slam by winning the PGA title this week.

Seeking his fourth title of the year after US PGA Tour titles at Pebble Beach in February and the Travelers Championship in June.

Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth

Rory McIlroy

A winner of US PGA Tour titles at Quail Hollow in 2010 and 2015 and only lost in 2012 in a playoff.

He broke his own course record with a 61 in the third round two years ago.

He also owns two PGA Championship titles from 2012 and 2014 but hasn’t won a major since lifting the Wanamaker Trophy three years ago.

Wet and soggy conditions are expected all week, which should play to his strengths as a long and accurate driver. His putter will be crucial. And it’s his first major since he split with long-time caddie J.P. Fitzgerald, with best pal Harry Diamond being his bagman this week.

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Dustin Johnson

World number one says he’s almost back to the level where he was before injuring his back on the eve of the Masters.

He had won at Riviera and taken the World Golf Championships Mexico and Match-Play titles to top the rankings and become a clear favorite.

His long driving should keep him in the hunt despite expected wet conditions.

Dustin Johnson

Dustin Johnson

Hideki Matsuyama

Won last week’s World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational to serve notice he has the game for a breakthrough major triumph at Quail Hollow, what would be the first by any Japanese man and only the second for any Asian man after South Korean Yang Yong-Eun at the 2009 PGA at Hazeltine.

Was US Open co-runner-up in June to Brooks Koepka at Erin Hills. Also won in February at Phoenix Open.

Hideki Matsuyama

Hideki Matsuyama

Matt Kuchar

The 39-year-old American enjoyed his best major finish with a runner-up effort behind Spieth at the British Open.

Kuchar, who also shared fourth this year at the Masters, has nine top-10s in majors without a victory.

Could a major breakthrough be on tap at the PGA? The only PGA Championship winner since 2008 who wasn’t a first-time major winner was McIlroy in 2012 and 2014.

Matt Kuchar

Matt Kuchar

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World No3 Hideki Matsuyama wins WGC Bridgestone Invitational

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Hideki Matsuyama.

Hideki Matsuyama fired a course record-equalling nine-under par 61 on Sunday to win the Bridgestone Invitational by five strokes for a second World Golf Championships win.

The world number three from Japan marched to the title with an eagle and seven birdies. His 16-under total of 264 put him five in front of two-time major winner Zach Johnson, who closed with a 68 for 269.

Matsuyama, the first player from Asia to win one of golf’s elite WGC titles, added the Bridgestone trophy to the HSBC Champions crown he claimed in October.

The dominant performance came in the final tune-up event for golf’s best before the last major of the season, the PGA Championship next week at Quail Hollow in North Carolina.

Matsuyama kick-started his round with an eagle at Firestone Country Club’s par-five second, where he chipped in from just off the green.

He capped his round with birdies at 16, 17 and 18 to join Jose Maria Olazabal, Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia as the only players to shoot 61 on Firestone’s South Course.

“In fact, I played with Tiger four years ago when he shot 61, so I knew 61 was the number today,” Matsuyama said. “I was thinking about that at 16 — I knew if I birdied 16, 17 and 18 I could get there.”

He did — rolling in a six-footer at the last — and will go into the PGA Championship a hot favorite to become the first Japanese man to win a major championship — although he noted that he’s never been particularly successful in the PGA Tour event at Quail Hollow.

“All I can do is my best,” Matsuyama said.

That was certainly good enough on Sunday — although Matsuyama said he had no expectation of such a round after his pre-round practice.

“You wouldn’t have believed how I warmed up this morning,” he said.

“I was not hitting it good on the range. I did hit some good shots, but I was nervous all the way around because I really wasn’t sure of my swing today.”

Nevertheless, his eagle and three birdies saw him leading when he made the turn.

American Charley Hoffman applied some pressure with five birdies his first 11 holes, but couldn’t maintain his consistency in a 66 that saw him settle for third place on 270.

Johnson, who shared the overnight lead with Belgian Thomas Pieters, had three birdies and a bogey in his two-under effort — but parred his way through the last seven holes as Matsuyama consolidated his lead.

Johnson, seeking his first win since the 2015 British Open, was encouraged by his game but said of Matsuyama: “Clearly, we all ran into a buzz saw today.”

Pieters’s one-over 71 was good enough for fourth place on 272.

Northern Ireland star Rory McIlroy carded a 60 to head a group on 273 that also included Scotland’s Russel Knox (68), England’s Paul Casey (67) and Canadian Adam Hadwin (69).

British Open champion Jordan Spieth, who will be pursuing a career Grand Slam at the PGA Championship, closed with a 68 that left him in a group sharing 13th on 276.

“My game improved each and every day, even though my score didn’t reflect it today so I’m really excited going into Quail Hollow,” Spieth said.

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Rory McIlroy confirms split with caddie JP Fitzgerald

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Rory McIlroy and JP Fitzgerald.

World number four Rory McIlroy has revealed he split from JP Fitzgerald because he was increasingly taking out his frustrations on his caddie of 10 years.

The pair worked together during all four of McIlroy’s major championship victories, but the last of those was in 2014 and McIlroy has endured a winless, injury-plagued season in 2017.

“It’s a big change,” McIlroy told a pre-tournament press conference ahead of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, where he won three years ago.

“JP has been a huge part of my life for the last decade.

“We started in July 2008 and went all the way to July this year, a lot of great times on and off the golf course. I still consider JP one of my best friends but sometimes to preserve a personal relationship you might have to sacrifice a professional one and that was sort of the decision I came to in the end.

“I was getting very hard on him on the golf course and I didn’t want to treat him like that.

“It was a really tough decision to make but I thought, ‘I’m coming to Firestone, I have four tournament rounds to get to know someone or get used to having someone else on my bag going into the last major of the year’.

“I thank JP for everything. He knows how much I think of him, what we’ve achieved together but at the end of the day it was a change I needed to make because I got to the point where if I didn’t play a good shot or made a wrong decision I was getting more frustrated at him than I was at myself.

“I’d much rather be angry at myself for making a wrong decision than being angry at him.”

Harry Diamond, the best man at McIlroy’s wedding and a former top amateur player in his own right, will caddy for McIlroy at Firestone and in next week’s US PGA at Quail Hollow.

It remains to be seen whether that arrangement will become permanent, but McIlroy did not rule out working with Fitzgerald again in the future.

“I hate the term fired, or sacked or axed because that’s definitely not what it was,” the Northern Irishman added. “I just changed my path a little bit but maybe in the future that path might come back to where it was.”

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