They’ve been there be­fore

This will be the 100th ma­jor event for two veter­ans. McIl­roy will be the fa­vorite.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Art Span­der sports@latimes.com

Mick­el­son and Els are cel­e­brat­ing the same ma­jor mile­stone at PGA.

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C. —On a rainy Tues­day in the Pied­mont, two days be­fore the last big golf tour­na­ment of the year, there was noth­ing finer in Carolina than to hear Phil Mick­el­son and Ernie Els talk about reach­ing the cen­tury mark — and Rory McIl­roy talk about Phil and Ernie, along with some com­ments on his own game.

When the 99th PGA Cham­pi­onship be­gins Thurs­day at Quail Hol­low, Mick­el­son and Els each will be play­ing in his 100th ma­jor, a to­tal achieved by only 12 oth­ers and topped by the 164 of the great Jack Nick­laus.

“So 100,” McIl­roy said, “that’s more than 20 years of play­ing ma­jors. Wow! That’s pretty im­pres­sive. Es­pe­cially how late [in their ca­reers] they have won some ma­jors, Ernie the [Bri­tish] Open in 2012, Phil in 2013. Hope­fully I can get to that num­ber.”

The num­ber at the mo­ment for McIl­roy is 7-1, his odds as fa­vorite for this PGA, even though he doesn’t have a win this year, ma­jor or mi­nor.

“I think it’s partly to do with the up­turn in form I’ve had the last few weeks,” he said, “and my his­tory on this course, a cou­ple of wins, beaten in a play­off.”

In­deed, a fourth in the Bri­tish Open three weeks ago and a fifth in the Bridge­stone last week­end have per­suaded the book­mak­ers that McIl­roy — healthy, wealthy and four months a mar­ried man — is ready to win a third PGA and fifth ma­jor.

McIl­roy, 28, is some two decades younger than Mick­el­son and Els, both 47 and both as will­ing to deal in mem­ory as pos­si­bil­ity. They com­peted against each other for the first time in 1984 at the Ju­nior World Cham­pi­onship in San Diego, Els trav­el­ing from South Africa to the U.S. for the first time where he would beat Mick­el­son, the home­town kid.

Mick­el­son has five ma­jor cham­pi­onships, three Masters, one PGA, one Bri­tish; Els has four, two US. Opens, two Bri­tish. And some won­der how many more each might have won were it not for Tiger Woods.

“I feel as though had Tiger not come around,” of­fered Mick­el­son, “I don’t feel I would have pushed my­self to achieve what I ended up achiev­ing, be­cause he forced ev­ery­body to get the best out of them­selves.”

Els had an­other view­point. “I’m a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from Phil,” he ad­mit­ted. “I won a cou­ple [ma­jors] early on. I was ready to win quite a few, if you know what I mean. And then when Tiger came in ’97 and him win­ning the Masters in the way that he did it threw me off a lit­tle bit. I thought I was re­ally one of the top play­ers, which I was, but that was a pretty spe­cial dis­play of golf.”

A dis­play some thought shook Els for­ever at Au­gusta, where he never won.

Nor has McIl­roy taken a Masters, although he said that is­sue need not be dis­cussed for a while ... at least un­til the end of this tour­na­ment.

The PGA of­fi­cially an­nounced Tues­day that start­ing in 2019 the event will shift from Au­gust to May, set­ting up four straight months of ma­jors — April, Masters; May, PGA; June, U.S. Open; July , Bri­tish Open — and just as sig­nif­i­cantly mov­ing golf away from foot­ball.

“I think that’s one of the things that ben­e­fits the NFL so much,” said McIl­roy, who may be a North­ern Ir­ish­man but well knows his U.S. sports. “They play, what­ever it is, 16, 18 weeks a year. Then ev­ery­body’s still talking about it. The talking of what’s go­ing to hap­pen next sea­son.

“I’ve al­ways thought an off­sea­son in golf would be good. Not just for the play­ers — to get a lit­tle bit of rest and work on their games, what­ever — but just from a fan perspective. To cre­ate a lit­tle hype be­fore the sea­son starts again.”

War­ren Lit­tle Getty Im­ages

PHIL MICK­EL­SON, left, and Ernie Els first com­peted against each other at the 1984 Ju­nior Worlds.

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