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Monday, 06 August 2012
Ernie Els   (Getty Images)
Ernie Els (Getty Images)

Open Champion Ernie Els is looking to become only the fourth player in the strokeplay era, and first since Padraig Harrington in 2008, to win the season’s last two Majors as 57 European Tour Members gather at Kiawah Island Golf Resort for “Glory’s Last Shot” at the US PGA Championship this week.

Els claimed his fourth Major when he won The Open for a second time a fortnight ago, denying Adam Scott with a brilliant back nine at Royal Lytham & St Annes, and the South African will tee up alongside Masters Champion Bubba Watson and US Open Champion Webb Simpson in the traditional Major grouping for the first two days.

Els’ bid to join Nick Price (1994), Tiger Woods (2000 and 2006) and Harrington in the exclusive club of players to have won both The Open and US PGA in the same season, since the latter became strokeplay in 1958, gets underway at 1.20pm on Thursday, just before World Number One Luke Donald begins his quest for a first Major title alongside Brandt Snedeker and Zach Johnson.

Keegan Bradley heads into his defence of the US PGA title brimming with confidence after his win in the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday, and the American will line up alongside four-time winner Tiger Woods and 2010 champion Martin Kaymer, teeing off at 8.30am on the opening morning.

Louis Oosthuizen, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose will also arrive in South Carolina in buoyant mood after their fine performances at Firestone Country Club last week, with Oosthuizen taking fourth spot, one ahead of McIlroy and Rose.

The 2010 Open Champion Oosthuizen will join Ian Poulter and Steve Stricker for the first two rounds with McIlroy, last year’s US Open winner, playing with Jim Furyk and Dustin Johnson while Race to Dubai leader Rose will enjoy the company of another Major-winning European, Paul Lawrie, as well as Nick Watney.

As the world’s best battle for the imposing Wannamaker Trophy over the spectacular Ocean Course, the final Major of the season will also have a significant bearing on the Ryder Cup as the European and US players in the field fight for Ryder Cup qualification.

The first eight players on the US team will be confirmed on Sunday night and while the European race to qualify continues until the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles a fortnight later, the US PGA Championship could have a major bearing on the shape of the European team with so many European and World Ranking points available.

European Captain José María Olazábal, the only player in the field to have played in the 1991 Ryder Cup over the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, will be able to follow the competition at close quarters with the final places in his team still to be cemented.

Peter Hanson, Kaymer and Sergio Garcia occupy the last three automatic places with just two events remaining as Nicolas Colsaerts, Ian Poulter, Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño lead the chase as they try to force their way into the team.

For Colsaerts and Cabrera-Bello, it will be their first taste of the US PGA Championship as they line up among 14 European Tour debutants in a field featuring all the top 103 players in the world.

One of those making a maiden appearance is 53 year old Senior Tour member Roger Chapman, who earned an invitation after winning the US Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores in May before going on to also win the US Senior Open last month.

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island will be hosting its first Major Championship this week and while the famous Pete Dye creation is relatively new compared to other Major venues, the course has witnessed plenty of drama over the last two decades.

The South Carolina venue was opened in time for The 1991 Ryder Cup, won by the United States by the narrowest of margins, while the World Cup was also played at the venue in 1997 - when the Irish team of Harrington and Paul McGinley took the title – and 2003, when Trevor Immelman and Rory Sabbatini took the trophy back to South Africa.

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