Tiger Woods is healthy. Rory McIlroy is ready. Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Adam Scott are hungry. Temperatures are hot, the course is formidable and young guns are taking aim at a major title.
There’s not much more golf fans could want when the 93rd PGA Championship tees off Thursday morning at Atlanta Athletic Club, a 7,467-yard par 70 layout where the world’s finest meet in the year’s final major tournament.Former World No. 1 Woods, a 14-time major winner chasing the all-time record 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, missed three months with left knee and Achilles tendon injuries before returning last week at a World Golf Championhips event.
Woods said he was “absolutely encouraged” about his game even though he has not won any title since the Australian Masters in November 2009 and has not won a major since the 2008 US Open.
McIlroy, the Northern Ireland prodigy who won his first major title at the US Open in June, was hailed as the next Woods but was unhappy with wind for the second British Open in a row and said he likely will play the US tour in 2012.
Australian Scott comes off a WGC victory last week with new caddie Steve Williams, fired by Woods in July after serving as his bagman in 13 major wins.
Scott will play alongside Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa and Italy’s Matteo Manassero, teen titans threatening to claim a major title before the 31-year-old Aussie.
England’s second-ranked Lee Westwood has adopted a more relaxed attitude in his search for a first major crown after talks with Bob Rotella, the sports psychologist who helped Darren Clarke before his British Open victory in July.
Westwood also hopes to complete the “Chubby Slam” for manager Chubby Chandler, who is also manager for the year’s three prior major winners — McIlroy, compatriot Clarke and Masters winner Charl Schwartzel of South Africa.The course has been renovated since offering up David Toms the lowest major 72-hole score of 15-under 265 to win the 2001 PGA Championship.
“It’s quite long and demanding off the tee,” Scott said. “Driving the golf ball this week is going to be the only way to create opportunity for birdies. You must be in the fairway.”
Considering the wet conditions in which McIlroy won the US Open, the PGA might produce the test Congressional Country Club did not.
Sweltering heat will test fitness while the course takes its toll on golf skills. “We have to conserve some energy this week and drink water because it is extreme heat out there,” Scott said. “We’re going to be out there for 5 1/2 hours and we’re going to have to deal with it.”