Charlotte’s first golf major is just days away now.
Anyone that cares about golf, and many more that normally don’t, will focus on Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club where the 99th PGA Championship takes place next Thursday through Sunday.
This week, the PGA released the tee times for the first two rounds. Nine groups stood out in a field filled with golf’s best.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
NO. 1 PLAYER
Dustin Johnson, the world’s top ranked player as of Sunday night, will play in a group with 2015 PGA Championship winner Jason Day and Swede Henrik Stenson. They’ll tee off from the 10th hole on Thursday and Friday at 8:35 a.m.
Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open winner, had three wins this season before falling down some stairs on the eve of the Masters and went a month without practicing. His experience in three tournaments at Quail Hollow may give him an edge next week as he tries to regain the confidence he said he’s lost on his putting game.
Day is another golfer suffering through a disappointing season. He’s fallen to No. 7 in the world rankings after spending more time than any other golfer at No. 1 last season.
MAJOR WINNERS, TOP STORY
Following tradition, the season’s three major winners – Jordan Spieth (British Open), Brooks Koepka (U.S. Open) and Spain’s Sergio Garcia (Masters) – will form another group.
Spieth is the tournament’s biggest story heading into play: He hopes to join Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen as the only players to complete golf's career grand slam. Spieth won the Masters and U.S. Open in 2015.
This trio will start on the 10th tee at 8:25 a.m.
Two former PGA Championship winners – Phil Mickelson (2005) Jason Dufner (2013) – join last year’s PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker for a 1:25 p.m. start on the first hole.
With Mickelson’s popularity and two more golfers in the top 40, this group should have a strong following.
Two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson, 2011 Masters champ Charl Schwartzel of South Africa and England's Paul Casey will tee off right before major winners Spieth, Koepka and Garcia at 8:15 a.m. on the 10th.
Watson lost the 2010 PGA Championship to Martin Kaymer in a three-hole playoff at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
Two of golf’s most popular players, No. 4 ranked Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, are grouped with one of golf’s fastest rising stars, Spain’s Jon Rahm. They tee off at 1:35 p.m. from the first hole.
McIlroy has won this major twice, in 2012 and 2014, and he’s won at Quail Hollow twice, too, in 2010 and 2015. Rahm has two victories since turning pro last year, and a win would confirm his status as future star. Fowler notched his first PGA Tour win in 2012 at Quail Hollow.
Former winners Vijay Singh, John Daly and Rich Beem form another group likely to draw a crowd.
Singh, from Fiji, won the PGA Championship twice, in 1998 and 2004. Americans Daly and Been won in 1991 and 2002, respectively. This group tees off at 8:20 a.m. from the first hole.
MORE TO WATCH
▪ Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, ranked third in the world, South Africa’s Ernie Els and England's Ian Poulter form another standout group. They’ll tee off at 7:45 a.m. from the 10th hole.
▪ Matt Kuchar, a sentimental favorite among many after an emotional runner-up finish in the British Open, is grouped with Brandt Snedeker and England's Justin Rose. This group tees off at 1:45 p.m. from the first hole.
▪ Webb Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open winner, gets a pairing with Luke Donald and Adam Scott, and will start from the first hole at 1:05 p.m. If you like home-cooking, Simpson, at No, 58 in the world rankings, is the highest ranked golfer who currently lives in Charlotte.
Follow Mike Reader on Twitter.