AKRON, Ohio — Rory McIlroy joins the marquee group of this year's major champions in the opening rounds of the PGA Championship.
That's assuming he plays next week at Whistling Straits, and the world's No. 1 player added yet another strong indicator Friday.
McIlroy tweeted a photo from a private jet leaving Portugal with emoticons that included and American flag and a golf course. More telling was that he retweeted the PGA of America's tee time in which he is in the same group as Masters and U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth and British Open champion Zach Johnson.
That threesome has accounted for the last five majors.
McIlroy has not played since the U.S. Open. He injured ligaments in his left ankle while playing soccer with friends, costing him title defenses at the British Open and this week at the Bridgestone Invitational. He won the PGA Championship last year at Valhalla.
His chief spokesman said in a text Friday evening that McIlroy has made nothing official. Even so, it would be peculiar for McIlroy to send so many tweets suggesting a return if he had no intention of playing.
The PGA Championship, like other majors, doesn't require players to officially commit. They can wait until their tee time on Thursday to decide whether to play, and it's possible that McIlroy first wants to play a practice round or two to see how his ankle holds up, especially on the terrain of Whistling Straits.
He is host of the champions' dinner on Tuesday night, and his press conference is scheduled for Wednesday. And assuming he plays, it should be quite a show in the same group as Spieth, who is closing in on McIlroy's No. 1 ranking that he has held for the last year.
Spieth would need to win the Bridgestone Invitational this week to replace McIlroy. Either way, No. 1 will be in play at Whistling Straits.
Tiger Woods, meanwhile, is with Keegan Bradley and Martin Kaymer, who won the last time the PGA was at Whistling Straits. Right in front of them will be a trio that will have plenty to talk about in the majors — Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson. All have had close calls in the majors over the last five years without winning.
Ryder Cup captains Davis Love III and Darren Clarke are in the same group with Steve Stricker, who is likely to be a captain in the future.
The PGA Championship typically puts the year's three major champions together. Twice in the last 15 years, Woods won two majors going into the PGA. In 2000, Woods (U.S. Open, British Open) played the opening rounds with Masters champion Vijay Singh and Jack Nicklaus, playing in his final PGA. And in 2005, the PGA of America put Woods (Masters, British Open) with U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell and Greg Norman.
Norman withdrew and was replaced by Kevin Sutherland.
Sutherland also was playing with Woods when his record cut streak ended at the Byron Nelson Classic earlier that year. Woods opened with a 75 at Baltusrol and was tied for 113th place and in danger of missing yet another cut. Alas, the Sutherland jinx ended. Woods rallied with rounds of 69-66-68 and finished two shots behind.