New dad Scheffler chasing history at PGA Championship

As Adam Stanley reports, Scottie Scheffler heads to Valhalla for the PGA Championship once again on top of the golf world, with the gap between him and everyone else in the field as wide as peak Tiger Woods.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The PGA Championship needed an identity. In recent years it’s found it by becoming the most exciting major in the game.

The PGA Championship, returning to Valhalla Golf Club for the first time in a decade, had long been stuck in the fourth position of golf’s major-championship calendar. It was branded as “Glory’s Last Shot” for most of its August run and while there were plenty of star-making moments there were also a few duds.

But a move to May in 2019 has also brought a move to the top of the excitement power rankings (Phil Mickelson winning at 51! Justin Thomas winning after a final-hole Mito Pereira meltdown! Brooks Koepka winning twice!) and this year is set to be no different — thanks in large part to Scottie Scheffler and the history he’s chasing.

Scheffler and his wife, Meredith, welcomed a son on May 8 — Bennett — and the world’s No.1-ranked golfer was spotted on the driving range Monday at Valhalla, back in action after a month away rocking a new-dad beard, blue polo and a big smile. He showed his fellow players pictures of his son — who wouldn’t? But it was time to get back to work. Tuesday was wet and dreary, but there was Scheffler — out for nine holes and some more practice.

Scheffler, who has won four of his last five starts on the PGA Tour including both The Players Championship and the Masters, is looking to become the first golfer to win the first two majors of the year since Jordan Spieth in 2015. Only five golfers have done that in the past 70 years.

There’s no reason why Scheffler couldn’t win again this week, assuming of course he’s mentally able to, for the first time, compartmentalize home and work life.

“I may win a lot of major championships. I may be stuck at two the rest of my career. It doesn’t really concern me in the moment. I’m just trying to prepare as best as possible for this week,” Scheffler said. “At home it was a nice time to reflect a little bit on my career so far and where my life has gone. I married my high school sweetheart and I always wanted to play professional golf and now I’m here.

“I was sitting there with a newborn in my arms and the green jacket in the closet. It was a pretty special time at home.”

The numbers are all on Scheffler’s side for even more success this week.

In just the major championships through the past three seasons, according to the Twenty First Group, Scheffler is first in nearly 10 key categories including scoring average, greens in regulation, and strokes gained: total. He’s first in more than a dozen stats on the PGA Tour so far this season including the trio of aforementioned numbers plus all of par-3, par-4, and par-5 scoring.

Both of the previous editions of the PGA Championship contested at Valhalla (2000, 2014) were won by the No.1-ranked players in the world at the time.

“The last couple months (golf) seems like it has felt fairly easy at times. I think, as a professional, that’s always what you’re striving for, and it’s been nice to see some of the benefits of the work that I’ve put in and see some results on the course, as well,” Scheffler said.

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Tiger Woods won the 2000 PGA Championship played at Valhalla while Rory McIlroy won the 2014 edition — somehow, McIlroy’s last major triumph. The golf course has undergone a handful of changes in the decade since. Notably, 150 yards have been added across five holes including the par-5 18th finisher. At 7,609 yards, it’s one of the longest courses on the PGA Tour this season.

While Scheffler is the top-of-the-mountain favourite there is no shortage of challengers waiting to take this trophy from him, including McIlroy — who won last week at Quail Hollow Club (ironically enough, the host of next year’s PGA Championship) but will tee it up Thursday after news he had filed for divorce from his wife of seven years, Erica, on Monday.

McIlroy and Scheffler’s games couldn’t be more different, but Woods offered a fascinating look at the game’s top two players.

“Obviously with Scottie — what he does through the golf ball and with his footwork — or Rory, who has arguably the best finish of a swing in golf. It looks like a statue, right? They’re two totally different players,” Woods said. “The commonality is I think the focus and when you’re on the range and watching them hit golf balls or listening, more so listening to them hit golf balls, there’s a different sound to it because they just don’t miss the middle of the face.

“I think obviously Scottie’s not as long as Rory and can’t probably separate himself on a golf course like that with pure length, but (Scheffler’s) ball striking, the amount of greens he hits, he just wears you out that way. And then he has an amazing pair of hands around the greens. If he putts awful, then he finishes in the top 10. If he putts decent, he wins. He putts great, he runs away. So, he’s just that good a ball-striker and that good an all-around player. Rory, just the way he’s able to take over a golf course and just overpower it, I kind of remember that back when I was younger, but it’s been a while.”

Both Scheffler and McIlroy are coming to Louisville having won their previous two starts on the PGA Tour while the defending PGA Championship winner, Brooks Koepka, is coming in off a victory on the LIV Golf circuit.

There’s a reason why Koepka has won three of the last six PGA Championships — because the courses are all set up to his strengths. Valhalla is a brute of a test. But blueprint-wise it’s awfully similar to where Koepka has dominated. Koepka is cumulatively 32-under par over his last six PGA Championships, a full 19 shots better than the next best.

And, oh, we haven’t even got to Jordan Spieth yet. The 30-year-old is taking another swing at the career grand slam.

“There’s just not many people in the game that have done that. And you have an opportunity to do things that are very unique in the game of golf — things that kind of stand out, stand the test of time afterwards,” Spieth said.

Whether it’s Scheffler or McIlroy, Koepka or Spieth, Woods or Mickelson (who is one of two to play all three previous PGA Championships at Valhalla and finished in the top 10 each time — a record for a singular venue), there are storylines abound this week at the PGA Championship.

Which should not — as recent history has shown — come as any surprise.

Best Bets

Favourites

Scottie Scheffler (+450): Very difficult not to tip the favourite. Won the Masters plus two Signature Events on the PGA Tour earlier this year. Almost won five in a row (finished T2 at the one he did not win). Leads the way in every key statistical category.

Brooks Koepka (+1400): The defending champion is built for PGA Championship golf, and this course completely fits his game.

Ludvig Aberg (+1800): Yes, this is Aberg’s PGA Championship debut but he did pretty well in his Masters debut last month — finishing second. He’s as complete a player as any on the PGA Tour (he’s third in total driving and eighth in strokes gained: total). As long as he’s healthy — he withdrew last week due to some knee discomfort — he’ll be a factor this week, and at nearly every major to come.

Long Shots

Cameron Young (+4000): Four top-10 finishes already this season including T9 at the Masters and holds five top-10 results in his last nine major starts. Seventh in total driving this season on the PGA Tour. If he finds something with the putter (126th in strokes gained: putting) he’ll be a factor.

Byeong-Hun An (+6600): The only golfer this season on the PGA Tour to spend every week inside the top 10 in the FedExCup standings. Finished in the top five at each of his last two tournaments, including a third-place finish at the Wells Fargo Championship last week.

Sepp Straka (+9000): Finished T7 at last year’s PGA Championship. Five of his last six finishes on the PGA Tour have been inside the top 20 including a T16 at The Players Championship, a T16 at the Masters, and T8 last week. Sits 31st in strokes gained: off the tee and third in driving accuracy so far this season on the PGA Tour.

Odds sourced from Sports Interaction on Tuesday.

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