KOHLER (United States) • Rory McIlroy's return from injury to defend his title at this week's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits gives the year's final Major extra spice as Jordan Spieth aims to carve out another slice of golf history.
World No. 1 McIlroy and second-ranked Spieth have between them won four of the last five Majors played and, aged just 26 and 22 respectively, they are likely to dominate the game at the highest level for some time to come.
Much of the focus at Whistling Straits will be on the remarkable Spieth, who will be seeking to join fellow Americans Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods as the only players in the modern era to have won three Majors in a single year.
Having claimed the Masters in April and the US Open in June, Spieth fell agonisingly short in his bid to land the first three Majors of the season as he tied for fourth in last month's British Open.
"But just like at the (British) Open, it's just going to be about that tournament, and that's all that will be on my mind... not thinking about three in a row," Spieth said while preparing for tomorrow's opening round at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin.
Four-time Major champion McIlroy will also draw intense scrutiny after more than seven weeks away.
The Northern Irishman, who tied for ninth in the US Open at Chambers Bay in his most recent start, ruptured a ligament in his left ankle on July 4. However, his arrival at Whistling Straits on Saturday to play 18 holes of practice at the PGA Championship venue, folowing by another 18 on Sunday, was warmly welcomed by his peers.
"It's huge," said English world No. 6 Justin Rose. "Any time a tournament misses its defending champion, it's a shame.
"He had such an amazing spell this time last year," he added, referring to McIlroy's wins at the British Open and PGA Championship. "It's fantastic for golf that he's back, back playing."
The PGA Championship has often been the most unpredictable of the four Majors, in part because it attracts the strongest field, and this week is no different with 97 of the world's top 100 players entered.
Among other early favourites are third-ranked American Bubba Watson, who was beaten by Germany's Martin Kaymer in a playoff for the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, fifth-ranked Australian Jason Day and American Rickie Fowler (seventh).
The ability to hit greens in regulation will be a major factor on a par-72 layout measuring 7,514 yards, marking Americans Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson, Swede Henrik Stenson and Australia's Adam Scott among those to watch.
Host venue for the PGA Championship in 2004 and 2010, Whistling Straits is modelled on an Irish seaside links and will once again provide a stiff test with its soaring sand dunes, fast-running fescue fairways and deep pot bunkers.
Eight of the holes hug the Lake Michigan shoreline and the heavily bunkered layout, which includes three par-four holes in excess of 500 yards, is among the longest in major championship history.
"It's a ball striker's golf course," said Spieth. "Tee to green, you just have to be very special. Greens in regulation might be the most important stat next week.
"Around the greens, they're not too tricky to putt. They're subtle. There's not crazy ridges. It's a phenomenal golf course."
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