THE decision to move the PGA Championship to the middle of May has altered the schedule of the Major championship events. But by no means has it diluted the hype with which golf’s four biggest and best tournaments are viewed.
From its perennial slot in August, the PGA Championship will be held from May 16 to 19 at Bethpage State Park course in New York. It will be played after the US Masters, scheduled for April 11 to 14 at Augusta National Golf Club in Atlanta, while the US Open is set for June 13 to 16 at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California.
The British Open will close out the Majors’ season at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Portrush, Northern Ireland from July 18 to 21.
And because of what transpired at Pebble Beach on Monday, when Phil Mickelson won his 44th PGA Tour title, the US Open was sharply brought into focus again.
Much of it had to do with Mickelson’s victory. But Tiger Woods was also brought into the equation and for good reason too.
Mickelson’s triumph at Pebble Beach immediately spawned discussion about him wrapping up a career Grand Slam at a venue where he has now won five times.
He has five Major titles to his credit – three Masters (2004, ’06 and 2010), one PGA Championship (2005) and British Open Claret Jug secured in 2013.
Thus, a US Open victory, something he has searched for in vain for so long – only to finish runner-up on no fewer than six ocassions – would go down very well in his trophy cabinet and slip him into an elite club of just a few who have managed the career Grand Slam.
It would probably be the most celebrated of the season’s Big Four if only because Mickelson is hugely popularly with the fans, media, sponsors and authorities.
A somewhat controversial character at times, Mickeleson will no doubt revel in the spotlight as he makes his way to a tournament that will end on Fathers’ Day and which he so desperately wants to win.
His misdemeanours, however, are some how always hastily forgiven by his fans.
His two-stroke penalty for hitting the ball while it was still moving in the US Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in New York last year is a fine example of that.
One can only imagine what might happen if Mickelson indeed does win the American national open at Pebble Beach in June.
Woods might have a say in that though. The 14-time Major champion won the season-ending Tour Championship last September and really got tongues wagging. He didn’t do too much at the Farmers Insurance Open last month, his first tournament of the year, but one gets a feeling that if he plays well before or during the Masters, he is going to cause quite a stir.
If his form is any good, going into the US Open then talk of the rivalry with Mickelson in the good ol’ days should spring to life again.
But there are so many golfers out there who have the game to win a Major that talk of Phil and Tiger only would be an injustice to those who read this column.
Brooks Koepka won two of the last three Majors last year and he will be as keen as ever to add to his collection, which stands at three – two US Opens and a PGA Championship.
Indeed, Koepka will be chasing a third US Open in a row when the tournament heads back to Pebble Beach in June, having also won it at Erin Hills Golf Club in Wisconsin the year before last.
Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Martin Kaymer and world number one Justin Rose are the most recent winners of the US national open before Koepka and they too will be bent on winning it again.
But then again so too will a long list of others including world number four Justin Thomas, his American compatriot and among the in-form players Bryson DeChambeau, Spain’s Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, who won again last month, the ever-popular Rickie Fowler, Norther Irishman Rory McIlroy and reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari of Italy.
But for all the permutations, a Mickelson-Woods showdown is one that might not be able to be matched, especially if Mickelson plays like he did this past week and Woods does like he did when he set a Major record margin of victory of 15 strokes in 2000 at the same venue.