NAPA: Rory McIlroy seeking a third consecutive major triumph and Tiger Woods making his comeback from a nagging back injury will highlight the 2014-15 US PGA season that begins Thursday.
Just 25 days after American Billy Horschel won the season-ending Tour Championship to claim the playoff title, the next championship chase begins with the Frys.com Open at Silverado as American Jimmy Walker defends his title.
World number one McIlroy, who helped inspire Europe to victory over the United States in the Ryder Cup last month, was named the US PGA Tour Player of the Year for last season after winning back-to-back major titles at the British Open and PGA Championship, the third and fourth majors of his career.
It sets the stage for McIlroy to complete a career grand slam at the age of 25 with a victory next April at the Masters. And if the Northern Ireland star dons a green jacket, he could complete a “Rory Slam” by winning next year’s US Open at Chambers Bay.
Woods, the 14-time major champion chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, is expected to return in December at the Hero World Challenge event he hosts in Florida.
Woods, who turns 39 in December, missed most of last season after undergoing back surgery on March 31 and has not played since the PGA Championship in August as he works to strengthen his back.
The former world number one has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open. He did not win in 2014 but won five times in 2013, most recently at the WGC event in Akron, Ohio.
No player has ever won four major titles past his 39th birthday, as Woods must now in order to match Nicklaus. But another target is within reach in the new season if he regains top form. Woods has 79 career PGA titles, three shy of the all-time record held by the late Sam Snead.
Six tournaments outside the majors will be played on new courses in the new campaign, including the National, another event owned by Woods that benefits his charity foundation. It moves to the Robert Trent Jones course from Congressional Country Club, both in the Washington suburbs.
The new campaign will conclude next October with the Presidents Cup in South Korea, the team event’s first stop in Asia with holders United States facing the Internationals collection of non-European talent.
In addition, the start of 2015 will mark the beginning of the final calendar year for the ban on anchored putting, which could cause some issues for players who use it such as Australian star Adam Scott. They might begin making transitions in style during the upcoming season.
The Masters figures to feature McIlroy against Bubba Watson, who has won two of the last three Masters, while McIlroy takes aim at the US Open with German Martin Kaymer defending his title and Phil Mickelson, a six-time US Open runner-up, seeking to finally capture the crown and complete his career slam.
After that, McIlroy will defend major titles at the British Open at St. Andrews and the PGA at Whistling Straits, where Kaymer beat Watson in a playoff in 2010 the last time the course hosted the event.