Ludvig Åberg has won one tournament in his young professional career and is aiming for his first major victory this week. Source: Imago Images
Ludvig Åberg has won one tournament in his young professional career and is aiming for his first major victory this week. Source: Imago Images

The battle at Valhalla: Scheffler faces European challengers

Golf OlyBet 14.05.2024

The eyes of the golf world will be fixed on Valhalla Golf Club this week, where the PGA Championship will be played. American Scottie Scheffler tops the list of favorites, but as the season’s second Major approaches, he needs to watch out for an emerging European talent and a true legend of the game.

Valhalla, located in Louisville, has hosted the PGA Championship three times before: in 1996, 2000, and 2014. It also hosted the Ryder Cup battle between the USA and Europe in 2008. Out of these four occasions, the victory has gone to non-Americans only once, when Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy triumphed there a decade ago.

The 35-year-old legend, with four Major victories under his belt, recently won the PGA Championship warm-up event, the Wells Fargo Championship. “It feels like the stars are aligning a little bit but I have got a lot of golf to play and a lot of great players to beat next week but I go into the next Major of the year feeling really good about myself.,” McIlroy rejoiced.

It’s important to note that the world number two wasn’t playing in just any small-town tournament last week but a high-level competition, where he outpaced his nearest competitor by five strokes. That nearest competitor, Xander Schauffele, had a dreadful final day but remains among the favourites for the PGA Championship.

To the top of the world in less than a year

While McIlroy has long been at the pinnacle of the golf world, 24-year-old Ludvig Åberg only started his professional career less than a year ago but has rapidly become a rising star. Today, the Scandinavian has climbed to sixth in the world rankings, even though his professional journey only began last June.

Åberg’s rise has been remarkably swift, and he shone already in his Major debut. At this year’s Masters, he finished second, losing to winner Scheffler by four strokes.

Incidentally, Åberg was also supposed to play in the Wells Fargo Championship but decided to withdraw, citing a knee injury. Fortunately, it appears to have been just a precaution, and the stable Swede is at full fitness for the season’s second Major.

Although Åberg and McIlroy are undoubtedly in good form, the tournament’s clear favorite is Scheffler. The world number one has been in brilliant form this year, winning four out of five tournaments. The only one to thwart his triumph was German Stephan Jäger, who beat the American by just one stroke at the Houston Open.

Scheffler’s participation in the PGA Championship was somewhat in doubt because his wife, Meredith, was expecting their first child. Their son Bennett was born before the tournament, and Scheffler is now in Louisville, which has dramatically reduced others’ chances of winning the Major.

Alongside the 27-year-old star, the home crowd’s biggest hope is defending champion Brooks Koepka. The American is one of 16 players at the PGA Championship who joined the Saudi-funded LIV Golf and one of seven invited to the tournament by the PGA itself.

This year, Koepka has repeatedly mentioned that he hasn’t been playing exceptionally well, but he comes into the PGA Championship in good form, having won the LIV tournament in Singapore. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if the former world number one fought for the top spot at Valhalla.

What and who else to watch for?

Unfortunately for spectators and players, the weather forecast predicts rain for the first days of the PGA Championship. While this mainly means different attire and umbrellas for the audience, golfers will need to adjust their play since the ball doesn’t travel as well in wet conditions.

Jordan Spieth, who has won three Majors in his career, gets his seventh chance this week to complete the career Grand Slam, winning all four Majors. In 2015, the American was the best at both the Masters and the US Open, and two years later, Spieth triumphed at the British Open.

Also present at the PGA Championship is the legendary Tiger Woods, whose best days are behind him and whose health has been poor since a car accident in 2021. If his body allows, the American aims to participate in all four Majors this year. He finished 60th at this year’s Masters.

Talor Gooch is considered an immensely talented golfer who has won three tournaments since joining the LIV tour. However, the PGA Championship is his only major this season, as the American has said he doesn’t intend to participate in qualifying for either the US or British Open. Experts find Gooch’s position puzzling since he has long complained about not being invited to Majors.

Valhalla’s course, designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus, opened in 1986 and has a par of 72. The record score of 63 belongs to Spaniard José María Olazábal and has stood for 24 years. Can anyone, maybe Scheffler and Åberg, break that record this year?


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