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Big names grouped together for 100th PGA

AFP-JIJI

Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and a host of major champions began preparing Monday in opening practice rounds for the spotlight of supergroup pairings at the 100th PGA Championship.

An elite field gathers at Bellerive Country Club for the year’s final major tournament with three-time major winner Jordan Spieth trying to complete a career Grand Slam and 14-time major champion Woods trying to end a 10-year major victory drought in his comeback from spinal fusion surgery.

Add in-form McIlroy, a four-time major winner who was a runner-up at the British Open, plus reigning major champion Patrick Reed from the Masters, two-time U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka and reigning British Open winner Francesco Molinari of Italy and it’s clear to see why expectations are high for a thrill-packed final major of 2018.

“I like the way the PGA sets it up,” Koepka said. “It’s very difficult. It’s a battle for sure.”

Second-ranked defending champion Justin Thomas, Woods and McIlroy are grouped together for the first two rounds as are Molinari, Reed and Koepka.

World No. 3 Justin Rose of England, Spain’s seventh-ranked Jon Rahm and eighth-ranked Spieth play together the first two days, as do top-ranked Dustin Johnson and past Masters winners Bubba Watson and Adam Scott.

Thomas and Rose could overtake Johnson for world No. 1 this week, but Rose would need a victory and Thomas no worse than a solo second finish.

The last August edition of the event before next year’s move to May also has Thomas coming off a win at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational against a similar world-class field as this week’s lineup.

“I’m just in a great place mentally right now,” Thomas said. “I was just so patient and calm.”

Since 1980, only two players have won the week before the PGA and then captured the Wanamaker Trophy, Woods in 2007 and McIlroy in 2014. And not since Woods in 2006-07 has anyone won the PGA in consecutive years.

“Tiger has been a pretty big influence for me. He motivated me to get where I am now,” Thomas said. “When you’re nine or 10 and you’re up there on the putting green, I was making putts to try to beat Tiger Woods in my head. So it’s great to have him back now.”