Rory leaves Kiawah Island pack for dust as rivals hit the wall
CADDIE'S ROLE: Rory destroyed a world-class field by eight shots and, amazingly, there’s more to come
A GOLF tournament, I have heard some veteran caddies tell their novice players, is a marathon not a sprint. As the men’s Olympic marathon was being run through the streets of London on Sunday morning, the contestants of the 94th US PGA Championship were preparing to complete their extended third rounds after a weather delay the previous day.
Marathon runners need to decide when the right moment is to break free from the pack and set a winning pace. They need to make sure that they can stick the pace they set and not ‘go’ too soon. Despite golf being compared to long distance running metaphorically, a player cannot simply decide to burst forward, it tends to just happen.
All golfers have a game plan, a strategy which they forge during their diligent practice rounds. They will not have a plan hatched that they are going to all of a sudden take off and leave the rest of the field behind them. But if you were looking at the final round of the PGA you may have got the impression that Rory McIlroy just decided to make a break on Sunday morning and open a four-shot lead from the chasing pack after eight holes. He didn’t but he just did. He looked like a Kenyan runner effortlessly taking off with glee, his lungs realising that he was at sea level.
Some talented players at the very top of their profession are capable of astonishing greatness. If a player like Rory is on form he looks unbeatable.
When he is on form in the final round of a Major then the chances are, with a 23-year-old mature McIlroy, he is going to win. It is more a question of not being able to suppress raw talent rather than a conscious decision by the player to surge ahead. Rory is an aggressive player by nature; it is how he plays the game. He will almost always attack a golf course. So when he is in automatic flushing form he will widen the gap between him and the pack as a matter of course.
Rory missed his tee shot off the second and ended up making birdie and the next time he hit a bad shot on the front nine was on the ninth, where he barely missed the fairway in the wasteland left. When you are destined to win you get up and down whenever you miss a shot. Of course he made a stunning up and down on nine and kept a healthy margin between him and the pack.
What you cannot account for in your marathon golf event is what the weather and opposition are going to do. The wind was a fresh cross-course breeze, not particularly strong but it was consistent, so it lent itself to a low score. Ian Poulter realised this and started his round with five straight birdies to let Rory know that he was going to have to keep pushing on if he was going to capture his first PGA title.
Meanwhile, Carl Pettersson, who looked like he was going to be Rory’s closest pursuer – only in golf, never in marathon running – had a freakish nightmare start to his final round. He incurred a two-shot penalty for touching a leaf on his back swing with his club when he was hitting from a hazard on the first hole. He wasn’t aware of it and even when they showed the incident in a slow motion replay it was hard to see just where the infringement occurred. So Pettersson’s four became a six and that was the end of his challenge, you would have thought.