We hope you’ve called in sick, put the kids in daycare, or made any other arrangements you need to make to ensure your undivided attention is focused squarely on the PGA Championship at Valhalla. The season’s fourth and final major of 2014 tees off Thursday morning, and here are the 9 best groups you’ll want to follow:
Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington
8:35 a.m. Thursday, Hole No. 10; 1:45 p.m. Friday, Hole No. 10
The most talked about 217th-ranked player ever is going to play! That’s where Tiger Woods sits in the FedExCup standings, but that’s basically irrelevant at this point. His season has been marred by a bad back, but he’s going to give it a go in what could be his final appearance of 2014. Forget winning, forget his chase for 18 majors, forget the FedExCup playoffs and Ryder Cup – let’s just hope Tiger plays a solid tournament and doesn’t do further damage to a back he’s going to need to resume his chase next year. Oh, and he’ll be playing with a pair of other past PGA championship winners: Mickelson (2005) and Harrington (2008).
Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer
1:45 p.m. Thursday, Hole No. 10; 8:35 a.m. Friday, Hole No. 10
The group featuring the victors from the season’s first three majors is led by McIlroy, the world No. 1 coming off wins at the Open Championship and Bridgestone Invitational. Watson missed the cut at both majors following his Masters win, so now would be a good time to validate his No. 2 spot in the FedExCup rankings. Kaymer, the dominating U.S. Open winner, has fared a tad better in the other majors, but never came close to contending.
Sergio Garcia, Steve Stricker, Tom Watson
1:25 p.m. Thursday, Hole No. 10; 8:15 a.m. Friday, Hole No. 10
Garcia and Stricker, two guys at the top of the “Best Yet To Win A Major” list, go off with an eight-time major winning legend who never was able to win the PGA Championship. Watson’s closest call in this event came in 1978, when he lost a playoff to John Mahaffey. Stricker and Watson can begin talking strategy for next month’s Ryder Cup, when Stricker will be an assistant captain to Watson, but not too loudly because they’ll be strategizing against Garcia. Maybe they can pick up on some of the Spaniard’s tendencies.
Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth, Lee Westwood
8:15 a.m. Thursday, Hole No. 10; 1:25 p.m. Friday, Hole No. 10
An intriguing group with three guys in varying stages of their careers. As the world No. 2 set on regaining the top ranking he lost to McIlroy last week, Scott is in his prime. At 21 and ranked No. 11, Spieth is playing all four majors in one year for the first time. And the 41-year-old Westwood is running out of time to get off the BYTWAM list, having played 66 career majors without a win, the most of any active player.
Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Y.E. Yang
1:55 p.m. Thursday, Hole No. 10; 8:45 a.m. Friday, Hole No. 10
All three count a PGA Championship as the only major of their careers: Yang in 2009, Bradley in ’11, Dufner in ’13. But Yang might feel a little bit out of the loop in this group – there might not be two better buds on tour than Bradley and Dufner. Plus, Bradley needs a solid performance to better his chances of making the U.S. Ryder Cup team (he’s 11th in the standings right now), and Dufner needs to solidify his spot (eighth). Yang is just playing.
Rickie Fowler, Victor Dubuisson, Ernie Els
8:05 a.m. Thursday, Hole No. 10; 1:15 p.m. Friday, Hole No. 10
The best player without a major this year is clearly Fowler, who’s finished in the top five at each one so far. He played in the final group at the past two. This marks Dubuisson’s PGA Championship debut, and the Frenchman is coming off a T-9 at the Open Championship. Els hasn’t been a factor at the PGA for years, but should he somehow win this thing, it’d be the third leg of his career grand slam.
Matt Kuchar, Justin Rose, Louis Oosthuizen
9:05 a.m. Thursday, Hole No. 10; 2:15 p.m. Friday, Hole No. 10
Like all these other star-studded groups, this one will go off No. 10, the 590-yard par-5 10th, the hole on which Oosthuizen won the long-drive contest on Tuesday. He may out drive them, but Oosthuizen probably will be out played by his top-10-ranked playing partners. World No. 6 Kuchar is still looking for his first major, and world No. 5 Rose seeks his second. They’ll also keep an eye on each other as they may square off in the Ryder Cup.
Jim Furyk, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Charl Schwartzel
8:55 a.m. Thursday, Hole No. 10; 2:05 p.m. Friday, Hole No. 10
A couple hardened veterans who also may see each other in the Ryder Cup are Furyk and Jimenez. With three runner-up finishes this season, Furyk’s solidly on the American squad, while Jimenez is just outside qualifying but has some solid performances to help his case. Furyk is coming off a fourth-place showing at the Open Championship, after top-15 results in the first two majors. Jimenez took fourth at the Masters, then missed the next two major cuts. Schwartzel, meanwhile, missed the Masters and U.S. Open cuts, then placed T-7 at The Open.
Jason Day, Ian Poulter, Jimmy Walker
8:25 a.m. Thursday, Hole No. 10; 1:35 p.m. Friday, Hole No. 10
After three top-10 results in majors a year ago, Day has only one to his name this year (T-4 at the U.S. Open). Poulter was inside the top 20 at the Masters and U.S. Open, but missed the cut at the Open Championship and needs a solid showing to impress the European Ryder Cup captain. Walker has booked his spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup squad, and has recorded two top-10 results in majors this year, and leads the FedExCup standings, but hasn’t really contended for a win since the third of his victories this year way back in February.
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