Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy will enjoy playing alongside Tiger Woods for the first two rounds of the PGA Championship despite the huge crowds and distractions their supergroup will create.
The superstar trio, with 22 Major titles between them, open at 3:11pm (SA time) on Thursday from the 10th tee at Southern Hills in what promises to be an electrifying start with extra noise, movement and distraction.
“You’ve got to embrace it and have fun and recognise these are the kind of pairings I’ll get to tell my kid about some day,” Spieth said. “It’s pretty exciting to be able to play these events growing up with the guy that you idolised.”
Woods makes the second start of his comeback from severe leg injuries suffered in a February 2021 car crash after an emotional return at April’s Masters, where he battled through pain to walk 72 holes, spectators roaring at the feat.
“When Tiger is playing, it builds such a tremendous buzz,” McIlroy said. “It transcends the golf world and goes into the wider world.”
Woods says he has the shotmaking to win the title if his body can stand the strain of walking 72 holes with enough endurance and stamina to be competitive at the finish.
“The desire to win is still the same,” Woods said. “Preparation is a lot more difficult, a lot more time consuming and a lot tougher mentally.”
Three-time Major winner Spieth would complete a career Grand Slam with a victory, while McIlroy seeks a fifth Major title but his first since 2014.
Both understand the crowds will be drawn by Woods, the 15-time Major winner who overcame back surgery to win the 2019 Masters for his first Major triumph in 11 years.
“He’s stubborn. He’s determined,” McIlroy said. “He lives for these Major championships and if he believes he can get around 18 holes, he believes he can win.”
Spieth has no doubts, especially seeing Woods limp into the weekend at Augusta National while he missed the cut.
“You can’t ever doubt the man anymore,” Spieth said. “He just continues to amaze people.”
Spieth won last month’s PGA Heritage title and was a runner-up last week, hoping those crowds will prepare him for the PGA.
“Sometimes when the crowds get big enough, it’s kind of just a colour blur in a way,” Spieth said. “When you’re used to being in front of big crowds by contending on the weekend, it starts to feel just a little more comfortable.”
Spieth also hopes the early PGA crowds will help prepare him for a weekend run at golf history.
“If I can play well these next couple days, given the crowds that will be out there, the weekend might actually feel a little like a breather in a way,” Spieth said.
“There’s extra noise. You’ve got to wait longer for the crosswalks. When Tiger finishes on a hole there are going to be people leaving. Feels like a weekend round on Thursday.”
Overshadowed by the Woods group is a group of reigning Major champions boasting the world’s three top players – US Open champion and world No 2 Jon Rahm of Spain, top-ranked Masters champion Scottie Scheffler and his third-ranked US compatriot Collin Morikawa, the Open champion.
“He’s a competitor,” Rahm said of Woods. “He’s going to try to win every single time and anytime he tees up, the world wants him to win.”
Rahm would reclaim the world No 1 spot Scheffler took last month if he wins and Scheffler is worse than fifth.
“To win Major championships and beat these amazing fields, you’ve got to have faith in all aspects of your game,” Scheffler said. “It’s going to take a variety of different things in order to play well.”
That’s because of the formidable tee-to-green challenge offered by Southern Hills.
“If you hit all 18 greens, that will be some kind of feat,” said two-time Major winner Dustin Johnson.
Don’t miss the fairways either, warns England’s Tyrrell Hatton.
“Depending on where they put some of the pins and where you miss it chipping, you could probably look pretty stupid fairly quickly,” he said.
© Agence France-Presse