PGA Championship: Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods top storylines

Phil Mickelson hits his tee shot on the fifth hole of the South Course at Torrey Pines during t ...

The PGA Championship was always known as Glory’s Last Chance, a marketing ploy to remind golf fans it was the final major on the calendar. But that’s no longer the case.

Moved to May in 2019, the PGA Championship is now the second major of the season, rolling into Tulsa, Oklahoma, this week at Southern Hills, a classic course that has hosted a big share of major championships.

As we head into tournament week, here are 10 things to keep an eye on.

1. Phil

This elephant in the room hanging over the tournament for months was answered Friday when Phil Mickelson said he won’t be playing. But that doesn’t make the questions go away.

This should have been a week in which Mickelson basked in the glory of defending a title he won as the oldest major champion in history. His triumph at Kiawah last spring just before his 51st birthday was a monumental achievement. But Mickelson’s comments about the rival LIV golf league and the Saudis running it, and his admission that he was flirting with and helping the other tour cost him his reputation and most of his sponsors.

Mickelson may or may not be serving a suspension by the PGA Tour — it doesn’t reveal punishments — but he hasn’t played since January and is on what he called a mental break.

When — or maybe the word is if — he returns, Mickelson cannot simply show up and just play. At some point he has to answer some difficult and pointed questions. That won’t be this week, but somewhere down the road, the issue will come to a head.

2. Tiger

He played some of the worst golf of his career last month at Augusta National, but Tiger Woods was front and center at the Masters. Making his first appearance after an accident that nearly cost him his leg, Woods surprisingly made it around the hilly course for four tournament rounds and several practice sessions. But he was in obvious pain.

Woods is on the entry list for the PGA Championship but hasn’t committed to play. And like Augusta, Southern Hills is another difficult walk with its elevation changes. The desire to play is there — he won the last major at Southern Hills in 2007 — but his body will decide.

3. Scottie

The hottest player in golf marched into Augusta and walked away with his first major championship. Scottie Scheffler now takes aim at two in a row. And this time, it’s at a course he loves. He played a practice round there last week and felt comfortable. “It was really nice to go up there and see the golf course again,” he said with no stress in his voice.

4. Jordan

He’s only 28, but Jordan Spieth arrives at the PGA Championship trying for the fifth time to complete the career grand slam. And this time, he comes in a little below the radar but playing well, having won at Harbour Town last month.

5. Dustin

It’s been 12 years since a bizarre rules violation on the 72nd hole possibly cost Dustin Johnson the 2010 PGA Championship, and he’s been snakebit in the tournament since with six top 10s, including second in 2019 and 2020. The best player of the past decade has 24 career victories, but it’s been 18 months since his last win. It’s about time he gets back to winning.

6. The disabled list

Woods isn’t the only health question mark. Consider Bryson DeChambeau, who had wrist surgery April 14 and was given a six-week recovery estimate; Brooks Koepka, who hasn’t played since the Masters and withdrew last week before the Byron Nelson without explanation; Harris English, who hasn’t played since January surgery for a torn labrum; and Sung Jae Im, who tested positive for COVID on Thursday in South Korea, leaving his availability in doubt. All are on the entry list.

7. First-time major winners

Over the years, the PGA Championship has been the most common tournament for players to earn their first major, and the list of top players seeking win No. 1 is deep. Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Cameron Smith, Viktor Hovland and Sam Burns are on that list, and all have won this year. Can one of them break through?

8. Obscure winners

Let’s not forget the PGA is also the major where players occasionally come out of nowhere. Winners in recent years have included Y.E. Yang, Shaun Micheel, Rich Beem, Jason Dufner, Jimmy Walker and Keegan Bradley. So discounting anybody in the field is tricky.

9. Red, white and blue

It’s been seven years since Jason Day won the PGA, and he’s the last international player to claim the Wanamaker Trophy. The U.S. Open might be the national championship, but the PGA Championship has had the strongest American flavor.

10. The course

Tucked away on the outskirts of Tulsa, Southern Hills has hosted seven major championships, most recently the 2001 U.S. Open and 2007 PGA Championship. It’s a classic course where driving is at a premium, and the already smallish greens have false fronts and runoffs making accuracy vital. “I think the green complexes are perfectly fitting to the holes,” said Spieth, noting that the sloped edges will be important. “The greens play maybe three quarters of the size that they actually are.”

Greg Robertson covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at grobertson@reviewjournal.com.