The last time Valhalla staged the US PGA Championship in 2000, the 18th green witnessed the passing of the torch between the two greatest players of their generations.
After coming agonisingly close to holing his approach to the par five for the eagle he needed to make the cut, Jack Nicklaus ended his last ever round in the year’s final major championship with a tap-in birdie.
The 18-time major winner then acknowledged the cheers of the crowd, pointed to his playing partner with a smile and gave him a thumbs-up, the Golden Bear acknowledging a young Tiger Woods was now the dominant figure in golf.
“He plays a game with which I am not familiar,” Nicklaus said of Woods after their respective opening rounds of 77 and 66, using the same phrase Bobby Jones had once used to describe Nicklaus.
“He shot the easiest 66. He missed a half dozen opportunities where it looked like they were in the hole. Phenomenal control, phenomenal concentration. That was a real treat to watch.”
Woods went on to successfully defend his title at Valhalla – although only after a three-hole play-off with Bob May – to make it three major victories in a row on his way to completing the ’Tiger Slam’ at the 2001 Masters.
A further eight majors have been added to the collection since, but none since the 2008 US Open and Woods returns to Valhalla on the back of his worst ever 72-hole finish in a major as a professional.
Finishing 69th in the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool left Woods an amazing 23 shots behind champion Rory McIlroy, but anyone expecting Woods to copy Nicklaus and simply hand over his crown to the 25-year-old from Northern Ireland would be advised not to hold their breath.
Woods arrived on Merseyside having played just one tournament since undergoing back surgery in March, missing the cut in the Quicken Loans National at Congressional, and an opening 69 suggested his ambition of winning a fourth Open title was not completely fanciful.
Subsequent rounds of 77, 73 and 75 suggested otherwise, but Woods has been in this situation before and possesses fierce determination to prove the doubters wrong once more.
“Unfortunately part of playing sports is getting injured,” the 38-year-old said. “We push the limits of our bodies for a long period of time. I believe Arnold (Palmer) and Gary (Player) played the Masters for over 50 years. We put a lot of undue stress on our bodies. For us in golf it’s the same rotational movement, we do the same thing over and over and over again.
“And we’re doing it 500 to 1,000 times a day and after 20, 30 years of it things are going to break down. Unfortunately I’ve had my share of breakdowns. I’ve had to rehab and I’ve had to come back and through all the years I’ve been able to do that.
“Unfortunately my first surgery was back in ’94 on my left knee. I had an couple of cysts sitting on a vein hitting a nerve, that didn’t feel very good. But I was able to come back and have a pretty good college career, a pretty good amateur career. I’ve had a few more operations unfortunately throughout the years on my knee and my back, and I’ve been able to come back from each one.”
McIlroy has so far escaped any such injuries but has not been immune to losses in form, most notably in 2013 when he struggled to adapt to his new Nike equipment and confessed he had seen enough lawyers to last a lifetime as a legal dispute with his former management company headed for the courts.
A first victory of the year finally arrived in Australia in December and after letting chances of further wins slip through his fingers in the early part of this season, he won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth just days after calling off his wedding to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.
With three of the four major titles secured by the age of 25, all eyes will be on Augusta next April and McIlroy’s first chance to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Nicklaus and Woods in completing a career grand slam.
But within minutes of lifting the Claret Jug, the world number two made sure to stress he still wanted to “desperately try and win” the US PGA title for a second time – he won by eight shots at Kiawah Island in 2012 – before turning his attention to the Masters.
And with a rekindled passion for the game helping him cut short his Open celebrations to quickly get back to work, McIlroy will be a worthy favourite to lift the Wanamaker Trophy once more.