Kiawah Island conditions set to turn US PGA Championship into fight for survival

As Jordan Spieth spoke to the world’s media ahead of the US PGA Championship, his bid to complete the career grand slam might be expected to have been top of the agenda.

Victory at Kiawah Island would, after all, make Spieth just the sixth player after Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods to have won all four major titles.

The former world number one is in superb form too, securing his first victory since the 2017 Open Championship in his native Texas last month and recording six other top-10 finishes from his 10 tournaments in 2021, including a tie for third in the Masters.

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Yet Spieth faced just one direct question about the possibility of joining golf’s most exclusive club and far more about the test facing 136 of the world’s best players – and 20 PGA professionals – at Kiawah Island.

The longest in major championship history when it staged the same event in 2012, the Ocean Course lost that claim to fame to US Open venue Chambers Bay in 2015, which was then itself supplanted by Erin Hills two years later.

But adding 200 yards for a monstrous total of 7,876 has regained Kiawah’s place in the record books, just six weeks after Masters chairman Fred Ridley said he hoped the day would never come when any major would be played on a course measuring 8,000 yards.

The windy conditions on South Carolina’s Atlantic coast – which contributed to a second-round scoring average of 78.09 in 2021 – means it is unlikely tournament organisers will stretch the course to its limit, but practice rounds have left every player in no doubt of the size of their task.

“If the wind blows this way for the rest of the week, it’s going to be a battle to just get in the clubhouse,” former Masters champion Adam Scott said.

“One (major) that comes to mind of just surviving was when Geoff Ogilvy won the US Open (in 2006). He was the only guy to play the last four holes in par that day, I believe, and it could be something similar for anybody kind of near the lead.

“It is a long course, but the wind… when you stand on 16 and it’s 608 yards, it’s playing like 750, and it’s probably numbers that we’ll never hopefully see on golf courses. But that’s what it’s playing like.”

Aside from the challenge of the course and Spieth’s grand slam bid, 2012 winner Rory McIlroy returns to the scene of his eight-shot victory buoyed by victory in the Wells Fargo Championship on his last start, but seeking a first major since lifting the Wanamaker Trophy for the second time in 2014.

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy walks to the 15th hole during a practice round before the 2021 US PGA Championship (Mayy York/AP)

US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau’s massive hitting should be tailor-made for the venue, although questions remain over how he will cope with the windy conditions.

World number one Dustin Johnson, who would join McIlroy and Spieth in having three legs of the grand slam with a victory, pulled out of the AT&T Byron Nelson citing “knee discomfort” and missed the cut in his title defence at the Masters.

And two-time winner Brooks Koepka is also several months away from full fitness after undergoing surgery on March 16 to deal with a knee cap dislocation and ligament damage.

Perhaps, as Scott suggests, it will truly be a case of survival of the fittest.