After withdrawing from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday, Woods will tee it up at Valhalla on Thursday (he arrived on Wednesdayto play a practice round). Earlier in the year, he did the same thing at Doral after a WD at Bay Hill and it ended up being his last event before undergoing back surgery. Woods obviously doesn't want to let another major-less year go by, but risking more damage to his back isn't going to help long term in his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus. Plus, it's not like he was exactly in top form before abruptly leaving Firestone.
Can anyone stop Rory McIlroy?
If he plays like he did at Hoylake or Firestone? No. McIlroy is in a groove with his driver similar to the one he found at the end of the 2012 season, when he won the PGA Championship and two FedEx Cup Playoff events. In Akron, he averaged 334.8 yards off the tee and was routinely splitting Firestone's narrow fairways. Going against him is his record after winning a major. The first two times he won a major, McIlroy finished no better than T-25 in his next three major starts. We're not swayed by such a small sample size, though. McIlroy is a heavy favorite (5-to-1 odds at most sports books) and for good reason.
What's up with the defending PGA Champ?
Jason Dufner's disappointing season got much worse last week in Akron. Dufner was diagnosed with two bulging discsin his neck the day before the Bridgestone Invitational and finished T-66 out of the 72 players who finished the tournament. On Saturday, his putting was so bad he gave away his putter to a fan and putted with a 3-wood for the final eight holes. In other words, we're not expecting much this week.
Will we see some real back-nine drama at a major this year?
Hopefully. As good as the winners of the first three majors have been (Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy), we haven't seen a lead change -- or even a tie -- on the back nine during the final round. The year's first three majors have played out eerily similar to the first three of 2000. That year the PGA Championship was at Valhalla. That year we got the epic Tiger Woods vs. Bob May duel. Fingers crossed.
Should we pencil Rickie Fowler in for another top 5 at a major?
Not so fast. While Fowler is the first player to finish in the top five at the season's first three majors since Tiger Woods in 2005, those are his only three top-five finishes of the season. The runner-up at both the U.S. and British Opens has been impressive in this year's biggest events, but playing your best on command is tough.
How much has Valhalla changed since 2000?
Not much. The course has been lengthened (what course hasn't?) and Jack Nicklaus rebuilt the greens three years after the 2008 Ryder Cup to make some of the contours less severe. Very few players in the field have played a stroke-play event at Valhalla. Hopefully, that leads to a more wide open tournament. Again, this is drama's last shot when it comes to 2014's major championships.
Did Phil find something at Firestone?
On Saturday, Phil Mickelson sounded like a dejected golfer without a clue. Then he went out and blitzed Firestone for a course-record 10 birdies on Sunday and a 62. It's tough to expect much from a guy who is still without a top 10 this season, but Mickelson did finish in the top 10 in the two previous PGAs contested at Valhalla.
Is it finally Sergio Garcia's time?
Other than Rory McIlroy, no one is playing better golf right now than Garcia, who arrives at Valhalla having finished runner-up in three consecutive PGA Tour events. Now ranked No. 3 in the world, the Spaniard is surely disappointed not to have come away with a win in any of those, but he has to be encouraged by his 42-under-par total during that stretch. Plus, we seem due for someone to break through in one of golf's four biggest tournaments. There hasn't been a season without a first-time major winner since 2000 (and it's only happened once since 1980). Speaking of 2000. . .
Where is Bob May?
The journeyman who went head-to-head against Tiger Woods at his best in 2000 and nearly took him down doesn't play on the PGA Tour anymore. In fact, May, 45, doesn't play much competitive golf anywhere. After a back injury in 2003, May played sparingly, though, he did manage another runner-up finish on tour at the 2006 B.C. Open. In recent years, he's turned to teaching the gameat his academy in Las Vegas -- not that he doesn't still have tour aspirations. This fall he'll tee it up at Web.com Tour Q School.
Who will earn the final Ryder Cup spots?
This is the final week to earn a spot on the U.S. team and not have to sweat out being picked by captain Tom Watson. Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk, Jimmy Walker, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler have all made the squad, with Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner rounding out the automatic qualifiers at this point. Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, who both figure to be captain's picks, are the next two in the standings. Guys like Brandt Snedeker, Webb Simpson, Harris English, and Bill Haas? A big week at Valhalla might be their last chance to punch a ticket to Scotland next month.
Who has the inside edge for PGA Tour Player of the Year?
We've all been swept up in McIlroymania of late, but there are still a lot of golfers who can come away with this award. Of course, a second major title of the year by McIlroy, Martin Kaymer or Bubba Watson would probably do the trick, but a first major of 2014 by someone like Jimmy Walker, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia or Matt Kuchar would give a lot more people a chance heading into the FedEx Cup Playoffs.