US PGA Championship 2017: Rory McIlroy out to halt Jordan Spieth quest

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy have won a combined seven majors
US PGA Championship
Venue: Quail Hollow, Charlotte, North Carolina Dates: 10-13 August
Coverage: Watch live on BBC Two, Red Button and BBC Sport website. Listen to BBC Radio 5 live commentary and follow text updates - including in-play video clips - on website and mobile app. Click for full times.

It is being billed as Rory McIlroy's last stand as he tries to halt Jordan Spieth's quest to become the youngest golfer to complete the career Grand Slam.

But the biggest likelihood is this week's US PGA Championship at Quail Hollow will yield more celebrations for the band of brothers who dominate American golf.

Remember how the likes of Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas delighted in Spieth's Open victory, and the camaraderie the champion shared with compatriot Matt Kuchar, the man he beat to the Claret Jug in the final round at Royal Birkdale last month.

There is compelling evidence to suggest McIlroy is the most likely to deny Spieth at the PGA, but this is yet another major where the list of potential winners runs very deep.

The young Texan has the momentum after his stunning Open victory, while McIlroy's form is trending nicely as he prepares to compete at one of his favourite venues.

The Northern Irishman shared fourth place at an Open where he effectively gave the field a five-stroke head-start with his calamitous opening half-dozen holes, and was fifth in the WGC Invitational last week, when his approach play did not fire on all cylinders.

He arrives in the deep south knowing Quail Hollow yielded his first PGA Tour victory, when he shot 62 as a callow 20-year-old in the final round in 2010.

Rory McIlroy
McIlroy won the Quail Hollow Championship by four shots, beating Phil Mickelson

It was the first of two McIlroy victories there, along with a play-off defeat, and he holds the course record of 61 on a layout that puts a premium on imperious driving.

That remains the four-time major champion's biggest strength. Only last week he averaged a staggering 328.7 yards off the tee at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.

Of his 56 drives during the tournament, all but four sailed beyond the 300-yard mark, and with rain in the forecast for Charlotte, North Carolina throughout this week, it does look made for McIlroy.

With his best mate Harry Diamond on his bag, and a chance to become only the fourth player to reach five majors before his 30th birthday, the moment is undoubtedly there for McIlroy to pounce.

These are not the course conditions that traditionally bring the best out of Spieth, but few players match his tenacity, mental fortitude and ability to seize a major moment.

Jordan Spieth
Spieth matched Tiger Woods' record winning total at the 2015 Masters with a score of 18 under par

Having won back-to-back Grand Slams - the Masters and US Open - in 2015, the 24-year-old Texan now has this one opportunity of beating Tiger Woods to become the youngest to achieve a full set of golf's biggest prizes.

Spieth performs well on the newly laid Bermuda grass that will offer the purest of putting surfaces. His knack of turning three strokes into two is a commodity that can easily make up for any deficiencies off the tee.

So the Open champion is a genuine threat on a course where thousands of trees have been removed from the layout familiar to PGA Tour fans.

Other alterations include merging the first and second holes into a 540-yard par four. A brand new par-three second hole has been built and the fifth has been recalibrated from a par five to a par four.

The front nine, therefore, is likely to feel rather different to the one on which McIlroy has prospered so frequently. The players can expect an appropriately toughened test for the year's closing major with the formidable "green mile" over the closing three holes.

Hideki Matsuyama
Matsuyama now has five PGA Tour wins, with three of them this season

No-one brings in better recent form than the Japanese sensation Hideki Matsuyama, after Sunday's extraordinary 61 won him the WGC title in Akron.

He has had a string of high major finishes, but has yet to produce his best golf in the tournaments that matter the most.

If he can maintain the devastating form of last week, the man with the distinctive pause at the top of his backswing might become Japan's first male major winner.

But going back to back in such big events is never easy - McIlroy was at the height of his powers when he achieved the feat in 2014, when he tore through the Open, WGC Invitational and the PGA at Valhalla.

More likely, in a city where there are plenty of reminders of the American civil war, is a showdown between the home country's biggest and boldest guns.

Fowler beat McIlroy at Quail Hollow in 2012 with an audacious play-off win over the Ulsterman and DA Points to land his first PGA Tour title. It is a place that has always suited him, and the greens should help his aggressive and sure putting style.

Rickie Fowler
Rickie Fowler finished 12 shots behind Spieth at the Open Championship last month

Fowler's rounds of 67 and 66 last weekend also bode well for his legion of supporters.

US Open winner Brooks Koepka does not lack the necessary firepower, and nor does Daniel Berger, who has enjoyed three top-fives and a win in his past six tournaments.

Of the older brigade, Zach Johnson showed yet again last week that length off the tee is not everything, finishing second in Ohio and four strokes better than McIlroy despite giving up an average of 32 yards on drives.

JB Holmes was the Quail Hollow champion in 2014, and Charley Hoffman is playing the golf of his life and looks increasingly at home at the biggest tournaments.

And I have not yet mentioned Dustin Johnson, the American who remains at the top of the world rankings, or the precociously talented Thomas, who remains a major winner in waiting.

Both are potential champions, although Johnson is a pale shadow of the golfer he was before his fateful fall on the eve of last April's Masters.

The odds have lengthened on a second major for the world number one, while McIlroy and Spieth lead the bookmakers' markets.

There are more attractive odds for a shrewd bet on the city of Charlotte again finding itself at the heart of civil combat - and given the current camaraderie in US golf, it will be one where civility will be to the fore.


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