The PGA Championship has a Canadian flavour

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The second men’s golf major of the year tees off Thursday at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., just an hour and a half drive from the Ontario border. With a record six Canadians in the field, there’s an increased chance that one will hoist the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday. More on that below, plus some other things to know about the tournament:

It’s round 2 of the PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf showdown.

This is the second major since the flow of defectors to the Saudi-funded league stemmed and battle lines were clearly drawn. The only arena for players from the rival tours to square off is the four majors, each run by independent entities. The PGA Championship belongs to the PGA of America, a separate organization from the PGA Tour.

The rebels made a statement at the Masters, where Brooks Koepka and LIV Golf posterboy Phil Mickelson tied for second and Patrick Reed tied for fourth. Those results dispelled the myth that LIV’s decadent 54-hole events with no cuts and guaranteed fat paycheques would render its stars too soft to compete on the sport’s biggest stages.

There will be 18 LIV Golf players at the PGA Championship — the same number that teed it up at Augusta. Mickelson will try to recapture his magic from the 2021 event on Kiawah Island, where, less than a month shy of his 51st birthday, he became the oldest major champion in history and captured his sixth major title. Koepka was a runner-up that year, just missing his fifth major victory after winning back-to-back PGA Championships and back-to-back U.S. Opens late last decade.

Other LIV players in the field this week include Reed, reigning British Open champion Cameron Smith and past major winners Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau.

Rory McIlroy seems a little off.

The PGA Tour’s most outspoken critic of LIV Golf has suddenly gone silent on the matter, giving a series of clipped responses to reporters’ questions about the rivalry on Tuesday. This continued a strange pattern of behaviour for the four-time major champ, who followed his devastating missed cut at the Masters (the only major he hasn’t won) by skipping the following week’s mandatory event.

A big component of the PGA Tour’s battle plan against LIV Golf involved juicing up 13 of its tournaments with elevated prize money and compulsory attendance for the top players. They’re allowed to miss one of them, but McIlroy had already skipped the year-opening Sentry Tournament of Champions, resulting in the Tour essentially fining him $3 million US. That’s a lot of cash, even for someone as rich as McIlroy. Plus, it was odd for the Tour’s fiercest anti-LIV warrior to turn his back on an important event. But he said he needed a break for his “mental and emotional well-being.”

McIlroy returned for the next week’s elevated event, the Wells Fargo Championship, but sputtered to a 47th-place finish. So he’s not exactly in top form as he chases his first major title in nine years.

Tiger Woods is not playing.

The GOAT was clearly wounded at the Masters, barely making the cut before withdrawing due to a plantar fasciitis flare-up. The following week, Woods announced he’d undergone yet another surgery on his crumbling body, this time an ankle procedure to address arthritis stemming from the 2021 car wreck that nearly cost him a leg.

There’s no timetable for the 15-time major champion’s return, and he’d already been reduced to an extremely limited schedule post-crash. Woods is also now dealing with a lawsuit brought by his ex-girlfriend Erica Herman, who’s trying to invalidate a non-disclosure agreement and claims Woods used a lawyer to break up with her.

Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler are the co-favourites.

The betting markets give the top two players in the world rankings about the same odds of winning their first PGA Championship. Rahm, a 28-year-old Spaniard, won the Masters last month for his second major title. Scheffler, a 26-year-old American who looks about 46, captured the green jacket last year for his lone major. He also won the “fifth major” in March, pocketing a record $4.5 million US for his Players Championship victory at TPC Sawgrass.

The defending champion is American Justin Thomas, who rallied from seven strokes down entering the final round to defeat Will Zalatoris in a playoff and capture his second PGA Championship last year at Southern Hills.

Six Canadians will take aim at the country’s men’s major drought.

It’s been 20 years since Mike Weir’s historic Masters victory, but Canada has a full cylinder to fire at Oak Hill. The group of six includes three players who have won on tour this season in Corey Conners, Adam Svensson and Mackenzie Hughes. They’re joined by Taylor Pendrith, Nick Taylor and Adam Hadwin.

Conners appears to have the best chance. The 31-year-old from Listowel, Ont., is ranked 29th in the world, comfortably the highest among Canadians. He’s also the top Canadian in the betting odds, with an implied win probability of about 1 per cent. That’s a long shot, but Oak Hill is a not-especially-long course that mostly rewards accuracy — a good fit for Conners’ skill set.

Keep an eye on Taylor too. The 35-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C., is the top Canadian in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings at No. 22. But he could be a bit rusty (and sleep-deprived) as he comes off a three-week break for the birth of his and his wife’s second child. Read more about Taylor and the other Canadians in the PGA Championship here.

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