Date: August 12, 2015
Author: Mark Hayes

Can Day conjure sandy masterpiece?

Is Rory fit enough to contend? Can Jordan win a third major for the year? Will Jason Day take the next step to become a major champion?

So many questions … all covered in sand.

The season’s final major returns to the controversial Whistling Straits in Wisconsin tomorrow, a course etched in golf infamy by Dustin Johnson’s two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in something he didn’t realise was a bunker at the corresponding event in 2010.

That very bunker has been covered by the PGA of America this week, with a viewing area up the right side of the 18th reducing the number of bunkers on the course to somewhere around 960.

We say “around” because course architect Pete Dye never kept count and, as they’re happy to joke, the groundstaff lose interest in counting somewhere before they reach the back nine.

The exposed course, with several holes perched over the mighty Lake Michigan to its east, can be extremely penal with the par-3s in particular a savage test in prevailing winds.

Should the PGA decide to tuck pins further, holes such as the 12th and 17th can be little short of vindictive.

In fact, after the reachable par-5 16th, the closing duo of holes is among the most demanding on tour with the 18th potentially a 473m beast.

As is the case on many Dye courses, the 18th can be made far easier if players can hit a long, controlled draw (right-handers) down the left to take advantage of a slope that could leave a wedge in.

But the penalty for missing in this attempt is severe with a creek marginally right and dense trees left.

This is, in effect, the Whistling Straits quandary in a nutshell.

What isn’t so cut and dried is the preparation of several key players.

Johnson, whose length should give him a huge edge on this bombers’ paradise, remains a huge question mark in the heat of major championship battle.

McIlroy will be not quite 40 days removed from severely damaging left ankle ligaments in a game of soccer with his mates.

The Northern Irishman is talking a good talk before the tournament, saying he’s “100 per cent ready”, but the taping around his ankle on his own social media posts suggests that can’t go unquestioned.

Spieth, who came within an unusually errant chip on the 18th at St Andrews of being in playoff for his third consecutive major championship, again is building well.

And, like Tiger Woods before him, is beginning to build an aura about him in close finishes, particularly in majors.

Bubba Watson is in hot form with runner-up finishes at both the Canadian Open and WGC Bridgestone since the Open Championship. He also lost at Whistling Straits in 2010 to Martin Kaymer on a course that suits his length and shaping abilities.

But Australia, with nine entrants including major debutant Brett Jones and US Open cult figure Cam Smith, will again look to Jason Day, hoping he can make that long-awaited major breakthrough.

Day, 27, has remarkably finished in the top 10 of nine majors since performing so well at this event for a T10 finish in 2010.

Among those are three runner-up finishes, a third and two fourths – and with victory in Canada and a bold run at the WGC under his belt, he’s surely ready to take that step.

“I'm excited for this week and just need a few little tightening-up tweaks," Day said this week.

"My short game was great most of (last) week … and I know I can give myself a great chance of getting my first major."

Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, John Senden, Matt Jones and the in-form Steve Bowditch also have claims to the Wannamaker Trophy.

Golf Australia rookie pro Smith made a huge splash at June’s US Open when he roared home to finish T4, and his unflappable manner should again stand him in good stead.

Matt’s brother Brett Jones is making his debut after qualifying through the club pros’ championship in the US, while Geoff Ogilvy enters in good major championship form but having missed the cut at last week’s Barracuda Championship.

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