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Stellar line-up gathers for Glory's Last Shot

The plot quickens.

Jason Dufner hopes to hang on to the trophy for another year                                                Photograph: Getty
Jason Dufner hopes to hang on to the trophy for another year Photograph: Getty

From the first Major of the golfing year, the Masters, to the second, the US Open, there is a couple of months in between. There is another four weeks before The Open gets going after that. Then, like a mischievous prankster leaping out from behind a door and shrieking 'Boo!' the US PGA Championship is upon us.

When practice for the closing Major of the campaign gets under way tomorrow, it will have been just 15 days since the Claret Jug was thrust into Rory McIlroy's grateful clutches at Royal Liverpool. The dust has barely settled and here we go again.

Back in the swinging Sixties, of course, the schedule seemed to be tighter than Barry Manilow's skin and The Open and the PGA Championship were played in consecutive weeks. The great Jack Nicklaus won his first PGA Championship in Dallas in 1963, just seven days after finishing third in The Open at Lytham.

"I went from a 55-degree temperature to a 110-degree temperature," he recalled. "I remember when I picked up the trophy I had to take a towel. I mean you could've cooked your breakfast on the trophy sitting out there it was so hot."

The championship, unfairly dubbed in some quarters as "the other one", has always provided an element of curiosity. It is the only Major Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson never won, thus denying each of them the career Grand Slam, while the championship has provided the one and only Major win for 35 players thus far. Remember the one-hit wonders of Shaun Micheel and Rich Beem?

In an event more positively billed, at one time, as "Glory's Last Shot", the strongest field of the year will assemble at Valhalla in Kentucky. With the exception of Dustin Johnson, who suddenly announced at the end of the week that he was taking "an immediate leave of absence from professional golf ... to seek professional help for personal challenges", the line-up features every player in the top 100 of the world rankings.

A year ago, Jason Dufner achieved his career ambition at Oak Hill as he captured his maiden Major triumph. The 37-year-old had been knocking on the PGA door, having finished fifth in 2010 and second the following year. In 2013, Dufner finally delivered.

"I fulfilled a dream of mine that I've had since I started playing golf," said the American. "It's hard to put into words what it's like to accomplish a lifelong dream. In a way, going to Valhalla will be a little sad as it will mean my year as champion is coming to an end. Hopefully I can hold on to that trophy for another 52 weeks."

The season's concluding Major returns to Valhalla for the first time since Tiger Woods successfully defended the crown there in 2000. It was also the stage upon which the USA won their last Ryder Cup, in 2008. With the 2014 contest at Gleneagles looming, this week's proceedings will be another significant stop off for players as the scramble to make the team intensifies on both sides of the Atlantic.

For Team America, the automatic qualification race will finish at the end of the PGA Championship. Phil Mickelson, a veteran of nine Ryder Cup campaigns, is currently outside the mark. Woods, meanwhile, is so far down the order he may as well be at the bottom of the ocean and the quandary for Tom Watson, the US skipper, continues. Does he give a captain's pick to a player who has barely played in 2014 due to back bother and may compete in only one more event before the Gleneagles gathering? In this high stakes game, it is a sizeable gamble.

On the European front, the likes of Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Francesco Molinari remain outside the automatic positions. Scotland's Stephen Gallacher is also on the fringes and remains a strong contender for one of Paul McGinley's wild card picks. In "Glory's Last Shot" there is plenty to aim for.

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