The second major of the 2022 will begin on Thursday as Southern Hills Country Club hosts the US PGA Championship.
Phil Mickelson, who became the oldest major champion by winning the event in 2021, has not played since February and will not defend the Wanamaker Trophy.
The American, 51, has not featured since criticism of his comments about the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series.
Tiger Woods, winner here in 2007, will head out in a marquee group including Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.
The world number 818 made his return at last month’s Masters, 14 months after a career-threatening car crash that left him unable to walk for three months, and insists he can win a 16th major title at the Oklahoma venue.
“I feel like I can, yeah, definitely,” said the American. “I just have to go out there and do it, do my work. It starts on Thursday and I will be ready.”
World number one Scottie Scheffler won the Green Jacket at Augusta National to claim his first major, and fourth victory of 2022, and is having to get used to being in the limelight.
“When I show up to tournaments, it’s a little bit different,” said the 25-year-old. “There’s more people hollering at me when I’m playing a practice round wanting to get signatures or whatever it is.
“At home, I’ve been recognised a few more times than I did in the past. But Istay in my own little bubble. Not much has changed the way I practice. When I show up to tournaments, I don’t feel any different.
“Golf is really chancy. It’s not consistent like other sports. We play outside, there’s bad waves, bad bounces, all kinds of stuff that can happen – (I’m) just trying to keep my head down and play good golf.”
Alongside Mickelson’s absence, one the main talking points in the build-up has been the cost of food and drinks for spectators, with Justin Thomas among those to express his surprise.
“I just saw it and I was blown away,” said the American world number nine. “You want people to come to the tournament.
“I was just blown away because I’ve never seen a beer $18 or $19 in my life. Guys have been talking about it, so I had to stand up for the fans. Felt like it was right.”
‘No hiding’ at restored Southern Hills
Southern Hills Country Club was not initially due to host this year’s championship. It was chosen at short notice after the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, was stripped of the event days after supporters of former US President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol in January last year.
The par-70 Tulsa venue is hosting its eighth major and first since staging the PGA in 2007. It has undergone some reconstructive work since then and now plays at 7,556 yards, more than 300 yards longer than when Woods won on the site 15 years ago.
Built by Perry Maxwell during the Great Depression in 1936, the course was restored in 2018 by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, who set about discovering its former glory by removing trees, adding bunkers, widening fairways and taking away patches of rough for the reopening in 2019.
“One of the things I loved is the way they’ve cut the run-offs, it’s very hard to putt from off the greens,” said Rory McIlroy after his practice round on Monday.
“They’re trying to get wedges in guys’ hands, which I really like. It’s forcing you to chip instead of, like whenever Pinehurst was, 2014, you could putt from sort of everywhere.”
It boasts only two par-fives but both stretch to more than 630 yards, while the par-four 18th is notoriously tricky – in seven men’s majors, only Woods in 2007 and Tommy Bolt at the 1958 US Open have managed to close out their victories with a par.
“It’s a major championship golf course,” said Spaniard Jon Rahm. “You can’t hide. You have to do everything well.”
It will however be the first time the PGA Championship has been staged at the venue in May, rather than later in the summer, though sweltering temperatures could still have an impact, with temperatures forecast to reach 33C on Thursday before cooling a little over the weekend with the threat of thunderstorms on Friday and Saturday afternoon.
“It was obviously a very different golf course,” said Woods about his 2007 victory.
“It was not cold that week. I remember playing behind JD (John Daly) the first day, which was awesome.
“It was, what, 109 (Fahrenheit – 42C) I think that first day? And I asked JD how many waters he drank out there, he said, ‘No, I had 13 Diet Cokes’.”