Europe turning up heat on Old Glory as doors open in Atlanta for the year's final major

Yet another piece of golfing history beckons Europe’s leading players when the season’s final major, the US PGA Championship, gets under way in steamy Atlanta on Thursday.

Not since the Masters began in 1934 have three consecutive majors been won by players from either the United Kingdom or the continent as a whole.

Either or both records could go here following stirring triumphs of Rory McIlroy at the US Open and Darren Clarke at The Open.

Passing the baton: Rory McIlroy shakes hands with Tiger Woods

Passing the baton: Rory McIlroy shakes hands with Tiger Woods

When Colin Montgomerie predicted in Sportsmail that Europe’s leading players would win at least 10 majors out of 20 played, who thought he was being conservative in his estimate?


(GB & Ire unless stated; all times in BST)

First tee:
6.35pm: L Oosthuizen (SA),
H Mahan (US), J Rose.
6.45: C Schwartzel
(SA), R McIlroy,
D Clarke.
6.55: M Kuchar
(US), L Westwood, J Day (US).
G McDowell, Z Johnson (US), G Ogilvy (A).

10th tee
1.25pm: A Quiros (Sp), L Donald,

N Watney (US).
1.35: D Love III (US),
T Woods (US), P Harrington.
1.45: B Watson (US), I Poulter, J Overton
2.05: S Stricker (US), P Casey,

MA Jimenez (Sp).

TV: LIVE on Sky Sports 2, from 6pm.

The fact is, Europe are ahead of that pace having won four of the last six, and with the other two going to South Africa, it led a plaintive American voice to raise a laugh when he asked Lee Westwood: ‘Do you think in our
lifetime we’ll ever see an American golfer win another major?’

All six of those players were first-time winners, and Luke Donald and Westwood will certainly be hoping to extend that sequence.

As for McIlroy, following his manic three months, the 22-year-old felt a return to some sort of normality at Firestone last week, where he finished tied sixth in the Bridgestone Invitational.

‘I was talking with my caddie JP (Fitzgerald) about it. We said it felt like we were getting back to doing what we’re supposed to do, which is working hard and trying to win golf tournaments,’ said McIlroy, who believes this major and the Masters — with set-ups designed to reward players who hit the ball long and high — are the ones that most suit his game.

He has played in this event twice and finished tied third both times, including last year, when he was in contention on the final day of a major for the first time. How much he has grown in the interim is indicated by the fact he begins this one as favourite.

Centre of attention: McIlroy signs autographs during his practice round on Wednesday

Centre of attention: McIlroy signs autographs during his practice round on Wednesday

McIlroy’s press conference was a masterpiece in the art of saying the
right thing. There was a lovely moment when he was asked about the Olympics in 2016, when golf will join the party.

‘It would be a huge honour to represent...’ and at that point we all looked up with pens poised, for McIlroy has yet to reveal whether he will play for Britain or Ireland. After a small hesitation, he continued: ‘your country in
the Olympics’.

When an Irish journalist raised his hand, McIlroy looked over and said: ‘I
know what you’re going to ask and no, I haven’t decided yet.’

That might sound presumptuous of McIlroy, given they will be two-man
teams taken off the world rankings and there are two Brits above him. In fact, all the world’s top 15 will be invited regardless, so the GB team
could have four or five men in Rio.

Back in the swing: Tiger Woods during his practice round on Wednesday at Atlanta Athletic Club

Back in the swing: Tiger Woods during his practice round on Wednesday at Atlanta Athletic Club

No surprise which press conference drew the biggest crowd. He might not have won in the US for more than two years and be 30th in the world; but it was standing room only for Tiger Woods.

There were plenty of questions about Steve Williams, after his former caddie made a fool of himself at Firestone. Woods admitted he was surprised to hear Williams’s intemperate remarks, when he claimed it was his ‘greatest win’ and has acted quickly to prevent it becoming a long-running saga.

Woods’s manager Mark Steinberg met Williams, who issued an apology for his remarks.

This is Woods’s first major since the Masters and his first for three years when he has felt healthy. ‘I’ll judge the season a success because I’m not wasting energy trying to block away the pain and I can plan ahead,’ he said. ‘I’m good to go.’

Getting ready: Open champion Darren Clarke in practice

Getting ready: Open champion Darren Clarke in practice

What will make this tournament an exciting one is the brutal nature of the last four holes, as hard a finish as Woods says he has seen.

‘Make four pars for four days on those four and you will pick up a ton of shots on the field,’ he said.

‘Glory’s last shot,’ they call this tournament. After an unprecedented run of six majors without a win, Old Glory finds itself under pressure like never before.

* Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer say they have ended their 10-year commercial relationship with Tiger Woods.

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