Here’s to the first ma­jor!

PGA Cham­pi­onship week is fi­nally here

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - JON MCCARTHY

Cel­e­bra­tions at ma­jor cham­pi­onships are usu­ally saved for Sun­days, but you'll be ex­cused for want­ing to pop the cork early this week.

Eight tour­na­ments into golf's restart, and three weeks af­ter the fi­nal ma­jor of the year was sup­posed to be played over in Eng­land, 2020's first ma­jor, the PGA Cham­pi­onship, has fi­nally ar­rived.

Af­ter the sea­son was shut down one round into the Play­ers Cham­pi­onship in March, it was any­one's guess when, or if, this week would ar­rive. There have been bumps along the way (the lat­est be­ing South African Bran­den Grace hav­ing to with­draw from last week's op­po­site-field Bar­racuda Cham­pi­onship while tied for sec­ond place af­ter test­ing pos­i­tive for COVID-19), but on a whole golf has done an ad­mirable job with its trav­el­ling hub, es­pe­cially com­pared to (cough, cough) base­ball.

Last week's WGC FedEx St. Jude In­vi­ta­tional started a fren­zied eight-week stretch of tour­na­ments that, bar­ring an­other stop­page, will in­clude the PGA Cham­pi­onship, the U.S. Open, a WGC, and three PGA Tour play­off events. Af­ter all that, we still have the pump­kin-spiced Masters to look for­ward to in Novem­ber.

“It's re­ally ex­cit­ing that we're go­ing to be able to com­pete in three ma­jors,” Phil Mick­el­son said. “It's ex­cit­ing that I'm start­ing to play well as we head into them and ex­cit­ing that golf has been able to do this in a safe en­vi­ron­ment. I re­ally think the Tour's done a great job of hav­ing us come back, get golf on TV that I think peo­ple are en­joy­ing watch­ing.”

Mick­el­son, 50, fin­ished tied for sec­ond be­hind Justin Thomas on Sun­day in Mem­phis.

With no fans in at­ten­dance this week at TPC Hard­ing Park in San Fran­cisco, and play­ers us­ing a cav­ernous mer­chan­dise tent as their so­cial-dis­tanc­ing locker room, it will be any­thing but a nor­mal PGA Cham­pi­onship. But a PGA Cham­pi­onship it will be, and this Sun­day some­body will be lift­ing the 27-pound Wana­maker Tro­phy.

Tiger Woods has played just once dur­ing the tour's restart and skipped last week's WGC, but the 15-time ma­jor champ ar­rived to Hard­ing Park early and was spot­ted out on the course prac­tic­ing on the week­end. This will be the first ma­jor cham­pi­onship the pub­lic course in San Fran has hosted, but golf fans likely re­mem­ber it as the site of the club twirl to end all club twirls.

Dur­ing the Pres­i­dents Cup in 2009, play­ing Satur­day four­somes ver­sus our man Mike Weir and Tim Clark, Woods hit a per­fect 3-iron ap­proach shot at the par-5 18th to win, cap­ping it off with quick twirl be­fore rais­ing his arms like a Jedi Mas­ter us­ing the force to en­sure a soft bounce onto the green. He went 5-0 that week and there has since been a stopaction Lego video made recre­at­ing the twirl.

So it's safe to say that golf's big­gest star has fond me­mories of the course, where he also beat John Daly in a play­off to win the WGC-Amer­i­can Ex­press Cham­pi­onship in 2005. Grow­ing up in Cal­i­for­nia and at­tend­ing Stan­ford, Woods is very com­fort­able on the West Coast, al­though with no­to­ri­ously cool morn­ings and wind in the fore­cast it could be an­other touc­hand-go week for the 44-yearold's sur­gi­cally-re­paired back.

Last week's win­ner Thomas comes to the cham­pi­onship af­ter knock­ing off Jon Rahm to re­claim the world No. 1 rank­ing. Two-time de­fend­ing PGA Cham­pi­onship win­ner Brooks Koepka is look­ing for a three-peat and, com­ing off a tie for sec­ond, his game (sur­prise, sur­prise) looks ma­jor-ready. Then there's Rory McIl­roy who will be try­ing to shake off his slow restart. And there's Bryson Decham­beau who's bring­ing his new body, swing, and mood to a ma­jor for the first time.

And, and, and . . . Some­body get me a glass. Here's to the sea­son's first ma­jor. CHIP SHOTS

There are four Cana­di­ans in the field: Adam Had­win, Nick Tay­lor, Macken­zie Hughes, and Corey Con­ners. All of them are PGA Tour win­ners, with Tay­lor be­com­ing the first of this gen­er­a­tion of Cana­dian men to win twice when he took down Mick­el­son at Peb­ble Beach in Fe­bru­ary. Hughes has been the hottest of the bunch so far dur­ing the restart with two top-six fin­ishes. The Dun­das, Ont. na­tive has been at his best on tough cour­ses. Forty years ago, Jack Nick­laus won the last of his record-ty­ing five PGA Cham­pi­onships. The Golden Bear fin­ished at six-un­der and was the only player un­der par that week at Oak Hill Coun­try Club in Rochester, New York. His seven-shot vic­tory in 1980 was a record mar­gin for the cham­pi­onship un­til 2012 when Rory McIl­roy won by eight at the Ocean Course at Ki­awah Is­land. Nick­laus took home a win­ner's cheque of $50,000 for his 17th of 18 ma­jor vic­to­ries, which the in­ter­net says is worth roughly $160,000 to­day. This week's win­ner will get US $1.98 mil­lion.

USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Phil Mick­el­son putts on the 17th green dur­ing the fi­nal round of the WGC - FedEx St. Jude In­vi­ta­tional golf tour­na­ment at TPC South­wind in Ten­nessee on Aug. 2.

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