Is Viktor Hovland moving closer to a major win? What positives can Rory McIlroy take from the PGA Championship? Talking points from a memorable week at Oak Hill, where Brooks Koepka claimed an impressive victory…
Koepka heads another strong week for LIV
Koepka’s victory saw him become the first player to win a major since joining LIV, meaning the Saudi-backed circuit currently has two of the last three major champions on their roster and helps undermine any argument about the lack of quality on the rival tour.
Former US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau finished in a share of fourth and was among the first to congratulate Koepka for his win on social media, while Cameron Smith posted a top-10 in another strong week for LIV players in majors.
It follows Koepka and Phil Mickelson sharing second at The Masters the previous month, where Patrick Reed also ended the week inside the top-five, while many more of the LIV contingent will fancy their chance of contending – if eligible to play – at the US Open and The Open this summer.
The media-heightened animosity between the two tours has certainly softened since players from both circuits went head-to-head over the first two majors, with Rory McIlroy among those to distance himself from any questioning around the LIV circuit.
LIV participation in the majors will only get tougher while they remain unrecognised by the Official World Golf Rankings, as exemptions begin to expire and players drops further down the rankings, although The Masters and PGA Championship have shown that many of their members still thoroughly deserve their spot at golf’s top table.
Hovland moves closer to maiden major
Viktor Hovland may have fallen just short in his latest bid to become golf’s newest major champion, but his final-round display suggested he is moving closer to an elusive breakthrough.
Hovland shared the 54-hole lead at The Open last summer before fading to a tied-fourth finish and then ended in tied-seventh at The Masters last month, with the 25-year-old then pushing Koepka throughout in a final-round tussle at Oak Hill.
He remained within one of the lead until a costly double-bogey at the 16th, although bounced back to birdie his final hole to claim a share of second and post the best major finish of his young career.
Hovland said in his post-round interview that he felt like things were going in the right direction, with the world No 6 likely to be amongst the favourites now for the final two majors of the year.
McIlroy makes positive strides in latest major top-10
Rory McIlroy came into the week off the back of a missed cut at The Masters and disappointing performance at the Wells Fargo Championship, then endured another erratic day off the tee as he battled to an opening-round 71.
The former world No 1 admitted he “couldn’t believe” he was only five strokes off the halfway lead as he continued to struggled to find his best form, with McIlroy continuing to dig deep over the weekend to post back-to-back 69s and finish in a share of seventh.
McIlroy is still without a major win since his 2014 PGA Championship triumph but now has 18 top-10s since that fourth major victory, while the Northern Irishman will he buoyed by his performance after setting himself such low expectations ahead of the tournament.
There’s not many players who can be nowhere near their best and still flirt with a late Sunday charge up the leaderboard, while McIlroy will now looks to improve on that weekend display when he makes four consecutive starts on the PGA Tour next months.
Block becomes golf’s new Cinderella story
Koepka may have been the player to have taken home the Wanamaker Trophy, but it was 46-year-old club professional Michael Block who won the hearts of the golfing world with his career-changing performance.
While the other 19 club pros failed to make it through to the weekend, Block quickly became dubbed the “Rocky of Rochester” after firing three consecutive rounds of 70 – each in completely different conditions – to make himself a genuine contender going into the final day.
Block won fans over with entertaining walk-and-talks during live TV coverage and was left close to tears when he discovered he had outscored Jon Rahm over the first two rounds, with the veteran enjoying rounds alongside Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy in a weekend that will never be forgotten.
Huge crowds followed the fans’ favourite during a final-round 71, where a sensational hole-in-one at the par-three 15th helped him to a tied-15th finish, with Block visibly emotional after sharing a hug with McIlroy on the 18th green and ensuring he will automatically qualify for next year’s event.
The result gave Block a $288k pay cheque, nearly four times the amount of his previous high, with Block reduced to tears again when found out he had received an exemption to play on the PGA Tour at the Charles Schwab Challenge this week.
An invite to next month’s RBC Canadian Open followed, meaning the members at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club may not be seeing much of their usual pro for some time! The Block party will only to continue to grow.
Rahm fails to live up to pre-tournament hype
Jon Rahm came into the event as the overwhelming favourite, having secured his fourth victory of the year at The Masters last month, only to see bid for back-to-back majors come to an abrupt halt after a nightmare start to the tournament.
Rahm carded his worst round of the year after five bogeys in a six-hole stretch and an ice-cold putter left him signing for a six-over 76, with the Spaniard having to produce a battling second-round 68 to sneak into the weekend and avoid a first worldwide missed cut since October 2021.
The world No 1 continued to show signs of frustration during an erratic third round in heavy rain, where he had a dispute with a cameraman and then hit a greenside microphone in anger, although salvaged a two-over 72 before signing off his week with a closing 71.
Rahm returns to action at The Memorial next month, an event he won in 2020 and had to withdraw from when six shots ahead a year later due to Covid-19, while it would be no surprise to see him back contending in the final two majors of the year.
Spieth falls short in Grand Slam bid
Jordan Spieth’s hopes of completing the career Grand Slam will have to wait at least another year after the three-time major champion failed to force his way into contention.
Spieth was a late arrival at Oak Hill after missing last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson due to injury, with the 29-year-old having his left wrist heavily strapped up as he stuttered to the weekend on the cut mark.
The former world No 1 admitted after his third round that the injury left him lacking confidence in certain positions ‘cost a few shots’, with Spieth finishing tied-29th in his seventh opportunity to join golf’s most elite group.
Spieth will have another chance to complete the Grand Slam at Valhalla next year, where victory would see him become just the sixth player in history to do so, although the priority over the coming weeks will be to get his wrist back to full strength.
Mickelson joins major centenary club
Phil Mickelson may not have been able to replicate the final-round charge he enjoyed at The Masters the previous month, but the six-time major champion was still able to create more headlines with his performance at Rochester.
Mickelson, who became the oldest winner in major history with 2021 victory before skipping his title defence last year, joined Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as the only players to make 100 cuts in majors.
Reaching the weekend meant Mickelson equalled the record for most cuts made at the PGA Championship, tying with Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd at 27, with the American’s lifetime exemption at the event giving him plenty of opportunities to add to that in the years ahead.
The 52-year-old carded rounds of 75 and 70 over the weekend to end the week on 10 over, while attention will be on Mickelson again next month when he has his annual attempt to complete the career Grand Slam at the US Open.
The PGA Tour heads to Texas for the Charles Schwab Challenge and the DP World Tour action comes from the KLM Open in the Netherlands, with both events live from Thursday on Sky Sports Golf.
The men’s major season continues next month at the US Open, where Matt Fitzpatrick returns as defending champion and Los Angeles Country Club hosts for the first time, with extended coverage live from June 15-18 on Sky Sports.