LOUISVILLE (United States), May 15 ― Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler ends a three-week layoff at the PGA Championship with plans to use a back-up caddie Saturday while second-ranked Rory McIlroy will compete after a shock divorce filing.

But don't write off the oddsmakers' darlings just yet even as tension builds for Thursday's opening round at 7,609-yard Valhalla, where McIlroy won his most recent major crown 10 years ago.

It's an epic emotional contrast between Scheffler's return to action after becoming a father last week and McIlroy's return to Valhalla following a split from wife Erica after seven years of marriage, but those are just the sparks that can produce gripping drama on golf's greatest stages.

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Both players have won their past two starts, McIlroy at last month's PGA Tour pairs event with Irishman Shane Lowry and on Sunday at Quail Hollow ahead of a Monday divorce filing at Palm Beach, Florida, and his arrival Tuesday at Valhalla for practice as news of the split became public.

Scheffler, whose wife Meredith gave birth to their first child last week, has four wins and a runner-up effort in his past five starts, taking titles at Bay Hill and the Players, losing a Houston Open playoff, then winning the Masters and Heritage crowns in back-to-back weeks last month.

Scheffler said time away has not weakened his game.

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“I'm definitely rested going into this week. I don't really feel like any rust has accumulated,” he said. “I was able to practice and play a lot at home. I'm able to do stuff at home to simulate tournament golf, especially on the greens, competing and gambling with my buddies. I don't really want to lose to them.”

Scheffler isn't worried about his mental game either.

“I feel like I'm in a good head space,” he said. “I've just been playing some really good golf.

“The last couple months it seems like it has felt fairly easy at times. I think that's always what you're striving for and it has been nice to see some of the benefits of the work I've put in and see some results on the course as well.”

Ted Scott, Scheffler's caddie, will miss Saturday's third round to attend his daughter's high school graduation. Scheffler pal Brad Payne, the PGA Tour chaplain, will fill-in as the third-round bagman.

“Something we talked about from the beginning of our relationship was family always comes first,” said Scheffler. “It was a pretty easy decision.”

Four-time major winner McIlroy, who said after his win Sunday that playing golf serves as an escape from stressful things beyond the sport, has played in a similar situation before.

Four days after breaking off his engagement to Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki in 2014, McIlroy won the European Tour's BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

McIlroy will start off the 10th tee on Thursday morning alongside England's Justin Rose, the 2013 US Open winner, and American Dustin Johnson, the 2016 US Open and 2020 Masters winner.

Scheffler tees off at the first hole Thursday afternoon alongside two US fellow major champions, 2023 US Open winner Wyndham Clark and 2023 British Open champion Brian Harman.

Spieth eyes career Slam

Scheffler could become the first player to win the first two majors in a calendar year since fellow American Jordan Spieth took the 2015 Masters and US Open.

Spieth is trying to complete a career Grand Slam with a victory this week.

Woods, a 15-time major winner and four-time PGA champion, struggles to walk 72 holes since a 2021 car crash but was 60th at the Masters.

“I can still hit shots,” Woods said. “Getting around is more of the difficulty that I face.”

Defending champion Brooks Koepka is among 16 LIV Golf players in the field of 156. He became the first active LIV player to win a major by capturing last year's PGA at Oak Hill.

Valhalla is a straightforward layout, says hometown hero Justin Thomas, a two-time PGA Championship winner.

“It's all right in front of you,” Thomas said. “Hit a driver far and straight and hit your irons well.”

World number nine Max Homa, who shared third at the Masters, added, “It's going to be a lot of well-struck 7-irons.” ― AFP