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Valhalla’s future in question for another PGA. Another dramatic finish wouldn’t hurt

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The PGA Championship is returning to Valhalla for the fourth time in the last 28 years, a greater rate than any other golf course over that span. Another memorable finish could go a long way in making sure it stays in the rotation.

Two of them ended in playoffs, one of them featuring a putt Tiger Woods still considers the most clutch of his career. Another included a bizarre first — Rory McIlroy joining the twosome ahead of him, with players having to stand to the side as he teed off on the 18th hole.

Valhalla might have a short history compared with venerable sites like Southern Hills and Baltusrol, but it already has shown capable of delivering pure theater.

“The short of it is that the script writing gods of golf have some connection to Valhalla,” said Jim Nantz, the CBS Sports host who has covered them all. “These gods must live right over the east side of Louisville over there by Valhalla because this place has created magic.”

One reason for Valhalla getting so much repeat business was the PGA of America owned it. Dating to the first PGA Championship in 1996, Valhalla had a Ryder Cup in 2008, two Senior PGA Championships and the Professional National Championship.

But now the club has gone private, sold to a local ownership group that includes David Novak, co-founder and former CEO of Yums! Brand.

“We fully expect to get another PGA Championship. And we fully expect to host major golfing events in the future,” Novak said.

The PGA Championship is booked through 2031 and PGA Frisco at the new PGA headquarters north of Dallas already is on the docket for 2027 and 2034.

Still to be determined is Valhalla’s future among major golf events. With another great finish, it might be hard to ignore.

Consider the Valhalla debut in 1996, when Kentucky native Kenny Perry looked poised to win a major championship when he closed with a 68. And then he headed to the CBS booth as Mark Brooks, in the final group, finished up.

Perry stayed in the booth until the end, right up until Brooks birdied the final hole to force a sudden-death playoff.

“When Kenny lost in a playoff to Mark Brooks, there was actually a little bit of controversy,” Nantz said. “It kind of got misrepresented that we wouldn’t let Kenny leave to go warm up. I was sitting there with Ken Venturi. Kenny came in and put a headshot on and helped us describe like 20 minutes of action.

“We asked him several times during commercial breaks, ‘Don’t you want to go stay sharp, warm up?’ No. He was happy to be exactly where he was.”

Perry missed the fairway to the left in the playoff and never even finished the hole as Brooks won his only majors.

Four years later was a finish as nail-biting as any, even with Woods involved. He was locked in a duel with unheralded Bob May. This was the summer of 2000, the peak of Woods, when he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by a record 15 shots and then became the youngest player at 24 to complete the Grand Slam with an eight-shot victory at St. Andrews.

Woods had to birdie the last two holes — the last one a 6-footer — to force a three-hole aggregate playoff. Woods opened with a 25-foot birdie putt and held on for a one-shot victory.

He was asked years later — even after forcing a playoff in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008 with a birdie on the last hole of regulation — the most pressure putt he ever made.

Woods chose Valhalla.

“The putt at Torrey was hard because it was bumpy, and I had to get it through some bumpy spot and put a little spin on it,” he said in 2013. “But the putt at the Valhalla, I’m going for three majors in a row that year. I think I can put myself in another position to win a U.S. Open, which I have, but to win three majors in a row doesn’t happen very often.”

Ben Hogan in 1953 was the only other player to win three majors in a year. And then Woods followed seven months later with another Masters title to be the only player to hold all four professional majors at the same time.

McIlroy emerged from an All-Star cast of Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson and Rickie Fowler in 2014, all of them with at least a share of the lead at some point on the back nine. A two-hour rain delay made it look like they wouldn’t finish.

But the PGA of America agreed to McIlroy’s request that he tee off on 18 as Mickelson and Fowler were still in the fairway. It was a bizarre finish, and neither Mickelson and Fowler were terribly pleased. It ended with Fowler missing an eagle putt, Mickelson nearly holing an eagle chip and McIlroy two-putting for par and the win.

“I’m not a huge fan of conflict, but when push comes to shove, I will,” McIlroy said last week. “That was one of those times when I needed to sort of assert my will on a situation. I think if I wasn’t as pushy as I was, I would have had to sleep on that lead and on that tee shot overnight. I just didn’t want to do that.

“I think the guys up ahead were pretty unhappy with how it all unfolded,” he said. “I got the result that I was looking for in the end and that’s all that matters.”

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer

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