World Number Three Rory McIlroy will lead the challenge of 58 European Tour Members when he defends his US PGA Championship title at Oak Hill Country Club this week.
The Northern Irishman cruised to a record eight-shot victory at Kiawah Island last year, sparking a magnificent run to the end of the season, during which he won three more times either side of the Atlantic, including the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai to be crowned European Tour Number One for 2012.
The 24 year old also topped the US PGA Tour Money List – emulating Luke Donald’s achievement in 2011 – and while he has struggled to reach those heights this year, he is confident more success is not far away.
“My game is not a million miles away from where I want it to be,” said McIlroy. “It’s obviously not where I want it to be right now, but it’s close. Playing four competitive rounds last week (at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he was tied 27th) on a course not too dissimilar to Oak Hill was ideal, and I’ll maybe look to play the week before a Major in future.
“I’ll be watching replays of last year, for sure. That win really turned my season around and it would be great to get my hands on the trophy again on Sunday.”
Of Oak Hill, which hosted the US PGA Championship in 1980 and 2003 as well as The 1994 Ryder Cup, McIlroy said: “I think the fairways have got a lot of bend to them. You've got to shape a lot of shots at Oak Hill. The greens are quite small and slopey, and the par threes are strong holes - you're going to have to hit some good iron shots.
“I've heard the rough is really up from when I was there maybe six weeks ago, so I'm looking forward to seeing what that's like.”
While McIlroy continues to seek his best form, Swede Henrik Stenson will hope to prolong arguably one of the finest spells of his career. The 37 year old has not missed a cut this season and has finished in the top ten in his last four appearances, including runner-up at The Open Championship and tied second at last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
“I played well in Scotland and did really well at The Open, so I’ve been out in the last group on the last day in two of the last three weeks – and the other one I was in the second to last group. I feel very comfortable and I’m expecting to be in contention each week.
“I’m looking forward to getting up there next week and hopefully carrying on in the same vein.”
Ten European Tour Members will be making their debut in the final Major of the season – Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Jonas Blixt, Mikko Ilonen, Scott Jamieson, Brooks Koepka, Richie Ramsay, Brett Rumford, Peter Uihlein, Jaco Van Zyl and Marc Warren – and they can all look to England’s David Lynn as the perfect example of what an underdog can achieve.
Lynn qualified as the 100th ranked player in the world to make his US PGA Championship bow in 2012 – and only the second Major appearance of his career – and a final round 68 gave him the runner-up spot and a cheque for $865,000 – his largest to date.