Monday, March 27, 2023

PGA back on the Southern Hills as Mickelson debates a comeback

For the past few weeks, expectations have been high for the PGA Championship, just as it was for the Masters. And like the previous major, it’s more about who has a chance to win.

Of course, there are differences.

Social media tracked Tiger Woods’ private jet flying to Augusta National a week before the Masters, expected just 14 months after a car crash in Los Angeles injured his right leg and ankle. Sure enough, Woods walked and played well enough to make it over the weekend.

Phil Mickelson hasn’t been heard from in almost three months.

Mickelson, the defending champion of historic proportions, signed up for the PGA Championship on April 25, a matter of process. His manager said in a brief statement that it was about the lefty keeping his options open.

Will he show up at Southern Hills next week to defend the title he won last year at age 50?

“If he’s there, great. You’re defending. I think about that historic win,” said six-time major champion and CBS analyst Nick Faldo. “I personally think it’s an incredible psychic The challenge is to come back and play after what he has imposed himself. I don’t think it’s as easy as getting back on the bike and arriving and playing golf tournaments.

“Attention is going to be monumental.”

Woods hasn’t announced definitively that he will be playing another Major, although he had a practice round last week to play — and walk through — in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and it would be a surprise if he doesn’t play. . Woods last won the PGA Championship in 2007 in Southern Hills.

For Mickelson, it’s not just about golf.

His public image rose as never before in February when Alan Shipnak, whose unofficial biography of Mickelson is to be released next week, published an excerpt. In which Mickelson outlined his involvement with the Saudi-funded rival league.

He was dismissive when talking about the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, saying that taking advantage of changes to how the PGA Tour operates meant getting involved was appropriate. Was. He even said that he recruited three other players to pay lawyers to write the operating agreement for the new league.

Top sponsors dropped him, with Mickelson issuing a statement that read more like an explanation than an apology, and he said he needed a “difficult” time.

Now it’s a matter of whether or not it’s time for a PGA Championship comeback, one of many subplots for a Major that’s sure to provide intrigue even before the first shot is hit.

Woods was the last PGA champion not to return in 2008 as he was recovering from reconstructive surgery on his left knee. Before that it was Ben Hogan in 1949, when he had recovered from more serious injuries from being hit by a bus in West Texas.

Mickelson’s injuries were self-inflicted.

Facing the public and the press may be more difficult than trying to attack the greens of the Southern Hills that architect Gil Hansey took as a restoration geared toward making the course a modern test without losing the charm of his original Perry Maxwell design. Worked on the project again.

Woods and Mickelson have been such a big part of golf for so long that they may still oversee the generation that would have a better chance of hoisting the 27-pound Wanamaker Trophy.

It begins with a pair of Texans traveling to the other side of the Red River to chase different versions of the Grand Slam.

Masters champion Scotty Schaffler has a long way to go, and while he rarely thinks ahead to the next shot, he probably knows that only three players have won the year’s first two Majors in the past 20 years.

Nevertheless, he has grabbed everyone’s attention in the last four months with his four major titles that have taken him to No. 1 in the world.

“He’s setting the bar pretty high right now and he’s the guy we all chase after,” Will Zalatoris said. “What he’s doing is borderline tigeresque. It’s great to see that.”

Jordan Spieth is chasing a career Grand Slam. This is his sixth shot in the Wanamaker Trophy since securing the third leg at the 2017 British Open, and it could be his best chance. His swing is getting closer to where he can count on it, and his playoff win at Hilton Head a month ago boosted his confidence.

At the beginning of the week, Spieth and Justin Thomas stayed near Southern Hills. Spieth last played it in 2009, when he lost in the major playoffs for the final four places of the match in the US Amateur. He scored 75 runs. He was 16 years old.

And a lot has changed, especially along the southern hills.

The most noticeable part of the restoration was the removal of the shot’s funnel from the surface of the sagging edge. Spieth realized that the targets were smaller than they appeared. And with a hydronic system beneath the greens that allows for greater control of the firmness of the turf, Spieth is hoping for a more accurate test.

“I think this is going to be one of the high-scoring PGAs we’ve seen,” he said.

Southern Hills has been hosting its eighth Major since 1958 – three US Opens – and the last five champions are in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

It was not supposed to host the PGA until 2030. This year’s championship was set for former President Donald Trump’s course in Bedminster, New Jersey. But four days after the January 6 violent uprising in the US Capitol as Congress ratified the presidential election, the PGA of America voted unanimously to move it to the southern hills.

It avoided what felt like a circus. Now it has a different variety.


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