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Can a fine course deliver memorable PGA?

The PGA Championship gets its share of derision when it comes to prestige. As majors go, it isn't the one kids really grow up dreaming of winning. It's more of an afterthought; a last-chance saloon to bank a major for the year.

It's graced a mixed bag of golf courses over the years too. Some beauties like Oak Hill, Winged Foot and Medinah have been regulars on the roster. But courses such as Valhalla, Atlanta Athletic, and even the scenic Whistling Straits, are not layouts which capture the imagination to any memorable extent.

Sometimes it feels as though this particular event gets caught 'twixt and 'tween a US Open-style challenge and target golf, and at the expense of a clear identity as a result.

Yet this week, it's an old favourite of Rory McIlroy's on the agenda in the Quail Hollow Club, and few strike a better balance between tough and fair. Water hazards and bunkers are in abundance, while crowned - and most likely firm - greens will keep the players on their toes with their approach shots.

Yet there are no blind shots or hidden pitfalls - nor is it crazy long, with crazy-thick rough. If you've a penchant for classic parkland courses, treat yourself to some fly-bys of this gem.

It gets under way with a genuine birdie opportunity in the par-five first hole, which is a benign, downhill dogleg to the right. But the course begins to show some teeth at the fourth hole - a par four with a treacherous green. Anyone putting from behind the flag will need the feel of a pickpocket.

The sixth hole is a 249-yard par three, which will be a huge test. It plays downhill, but the prevailing wind is likely to hurt the ball, and, with a small-ish green, par will be an excellent score.

Then there are birdie opportunities at the par-five seventh, the drive-able par-four eighth and the par-five 10th, just to keep up morale. The 12th looks fiendishly tight, yet the short par-four 14th and the spectacular par-five 15th will produce their share of excitement and red numbers too.

However, the mark of any great course is a formidable finishing stretch, and the final three holes - or the so-called 'Green Mile' - does not disappoint. The 16th isn't just long at over 500 yards: it's unforgiving too, with a hefty dogleg right off the tee, and a sloping green on a lake's edge. Take four and run.

The 17th is the hole we'll all remember. At 220-odd yards, most players will be hitting no more than 5 iron with adrenaline coursing through their veins. But they'll be doing so over an all-water carry. And then there's 18, which is beautiful in a different way. Off the tee, players will need to thread the ball between a well bunkered right-hand side, and a creek on the left. The green doesn't relent either, with hazards on both sides. And given that the hole measures around 500 yards, players will have to negotiate this approach with a long club in their hands.

The big-hitting McIlroy's success at Quail Hollow is well documented. It was the site of his first PGA Tour win in 2010 (at the age of just 20), which included a course-record 62 in the final round. At the Wells Fargo Championship five years later, he then broke this record with a 61 on day three, as he coasted to victory. He's also recorded four other top-10s, including a playoff defeat, at this fine track. No wonder he says he "has some really good vibes going into this week."

His past performances there can be the only justification for having been instilled as a 7-1 favourite among the bookies.

Despite an impressive turnaround at the Open, and a solid display at the Bridgestone Invitational last week, he hasn't won a major in over three years, and hasn't won too many tournaments in that time either. The more obvious bets to me would be the Grand Slam-hunting Jordan Spieth and the gifted Hideki Matsuyama, who, following his extraordinary masterclass in Akron on Sunday, is surely due a genuine assault on a major title.

My dark horse this week, though, is Rickie Fowler. It's been an up-and-down year, and his inability to land the killer blow when it counts is no secret. Yet his steadiness seems a good fit on a course which will necessitate an optimal combination of attack and defence. And he too will take immense confidence from a 67-66 finish this past weekend.

Hopefully I'm wrong on all counts, and Branden Grace - or any other South African - can deliver the goods. I do fear for his low ball flight and these particular greens, but he is a good enough player that a workaround should be achievable.

Either way, it's all been building quite nicely towards this week at Quail Hollow, with a number of sleeping giants finally beginning to awake. Throw an exemplary golf course into the mix, and we may well be set for a classic.

It may not be the Open or the Masters, but it is still a major championship, and, with plenty of the world's best hitting their straps, there is ample reason to stay close to your TV sets from Thursday.

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