CHARLOTTE: Jordan Spieth was set for an early charge at golf history Thursday morning (Friday in Manila) at the PGA Championship, launching his bid to become the youngest player to complete a career Grand Slam.
The opening round of the year’s last major tournament on the rain-softened 7,600-yard, par-71 Quail Hollow layout promised early excitement with Spieth, who won last month’s British Open, in the seventh group going off the 10th tee.
Alongside the 24-year-old American in the feature group are the year’s two other major winners, Spain’s Sergio Garcia from the Masters and American Brooks Koepka from the US Open.
Spieth would become only the sixth man to sweep the four major titles in a career after Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen.
“That’s a great feat in itself, especially as young as he is,” said world number one Dustin Johnson of Spieth. “But he’s a very talented player and he’s going to continue to be a very good player for a long time.”
World number two Spieth, who also won the 2015 Masters and US Open, would become the youngest golfer to complete a career Grand Slam by winning the Wanamaker Trophy here, being about six months younger than Woods.
“He has that intangible of when he doesn’t have his best stuff… to still find a way to win,” said five-time major champion Phil Mickelson. “It’s just that indescribable trait that he has to find a way to get it done, find the will to win. He’s extremely tough to beat because he just finds a way to gut it out.”
Spieth dismisses the idea of extra pressure trying to break the age mark, saying he has many years to try and complete the career Slam, his larger priority.
“There won’t be added expectations or pressure,” Spieth said. “It’s not a burning desire to have to be the youngest to do something, and that would be the only reason there would be added expectations. If I don’t win one in the next 10 years, then maybe there’s added pressure.”
Spieth also become the first to finish the career Slam with a victory at the PGA.
“He’s a special guy,” four-time major winner Ernie Els said. “He has won some events really showing some grit. You can’t really describe it, but it’s there. The guy finds a way of getting it done. He’s really playing his game and grinding it out. That’s a great way to win golf tournaments.”
Long hitters have edge
Spieth is ready for the challenge of a course that has absorbed an inch of rain this week, giving long hitters like himself an extra edge with balls plopping into fairways and holding on greens that might otherwise be lightning-fast.
“You have to have unbelievable distance control out here once you’re in the fairway to get the ball close to these pins,” Spieth said. “So it’s going to be such a challenge to have close birdie putts.
“Speed putting and obviously tricky little shots around the green become so important to save par. This is going to be one of the most challenging tracts I think we’ve played.”
Other early starters in round one include Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, coming off a win last week in Akron, 2016 US Open winner Johnson, 2016 British Open winner Henrik Stenson of Sweden and 2015 PGA winner Jason Day of Australia.
McIlroy has afternoon start
Leading the afternoon wave will be world number four Rory McIlroy. The 28-year-old from Northern Ireland could become only the third player to win five majors before turning 30, joining Nicklaus and Woods.
McIlroy, missing only the Masters to complete his own career Grand Slam, hasn’t won a major since the 2014 PGA Championship.
But he has won twice in US PGA Tour events at Quail Hollow, losing a third in a playoff. And he has shown skill in wet weather, notably at the 2011 US Open, where he won his first major.
Other afternoon starters include US stars Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson, Spain’s Jon Rahm and England’s Justin Rose.