Europe’s golfers have returned to the scene of their only Ryder Cup defeat this century for the 96th US PGA Championship, which gets under way today.
But they have rarely been in better shape to turn team disappointment into individual glory in a year which has already produced major champions in Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy.
Kaymer narrowly missed out on qualifying for a place on the team at Valhalla in 2008 but was invited by European captain Nick Faldo in order to gain experience of the event, while McIlroy had only turned professional the year before.
Six years on the pair have joined 10 members of that beaten side – only Soren Hansen and Oliver Wilson have not qualified – in Louisville, with Kaymer the reigning US Open champion and McIlroy fresh from winning his last two events, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and Open Championship. Victory on Sunday took McIlroy back to the top of the world rankings and there are three other European players in the top five in Sergio Garcia – runner-up to McIlroy at Royal Liverpool and Firestone – Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose.
All four of them, plus world n0.2 Adam Scott, could end the week as world no.1 if they are holding the Wanamaker Trophy aloft on Sunday, but McIlroy is a hot favourite to deny them that opportunity in style with a third straight win and fourth major title. The 25-year-old acknowledged fatigue following his recent exploits could be a factor by giving himself a day off on Monday, but could do so safe in the knowledge that the 7,458-yard par 71 is expected to play right into his hands.
“I feel like the guys who hit the ball high and soft have a distinct advantage because you’re hitting to a small section of the green,” Phil Mickelson said. “Most every shot into the green is a full shot, bringing it in as high and soft as you can.”
The statistics are also on McIlroy’s side, with all three major winners so far this year having won one previously; Bubba Watson won his second Masters title, Kaymer added the US Open to his US PGA win in 2010 and McIlroy completed the third leg of a career Grand Slam by lifting the Claret Jug.
Since 1934, there have been only three occasions when all the winners of the year’s majors have been repeat champions.
“I think experience and knowing what it feels like to be in that position is a huge thing,” McIlroy said.