Confident Rory McIlroy looking forward to Major test
Irishman believes his game in good shape ahead of US PGA at Quail Hollow
Rory McIlroy might have been looking in the mirror, and providing an insight into how only players with the X-Factor deliver when the heat is on.
With a question focused on Jordan Spieth’s pursuit of the career Grand Slam here at this 99th edition of the US PGA Championship, McIlroy was asked what it was that enabled Spieth to get the job done.
“He has got that knack. I call it resilience. I don’t know if there’s a better word to describe what it is that he has. But he has got this resilience where he gets himself in positions in tournaments where you don’t think he can come back from, and he does. It’s awfully impressive.”
He could have been talking about himself, just as easily.
Except such resilience is not the word that McIlroy would use about himself, for the Northern Irishman – in his own eyes – dances to a different beat. For him, it is more a rollercoaster ride, one of ups and downs and swerves that frequently have him holding onto the safety straps, before finding equilibrium.
Indeed, that is how McIlroy himself sees it.
“Life isn’t just like that,” he said, using his hands to form a level plane, “there’s little hollows and you come back up. I have never lost faith, I have always believed in my own ability. I think my belief. I have always believed in myself, in my own ability from day one and I still do.”
So it is that McIlroy will bring such self-belief into this final Major championship of the season, where the trait perhaps will serve as a 15th club in the bag.
That bag, in fact, will be missing a wedge for this particular test. After arriving here on Monday, and seeing how long the course would play after days of rain, McIlroy has taken the decision to put a 3-iron into his armoury and will have just three wedges in his bag instead of the customary four.
McIlroy’s season so far has been akin to a rollercoaster, except not so much of a thrill ride. It has had more downs than ups, oft times struggling to gain any upward trend. With no win – yet – this year, McIlroy is in unfamiliar territory, yet it is that self-belief which provides his greatest strength as he bids to claim a fifth Major title on a course where he has twice won the Wells Fargo championship on the PGA Tour.
From the time the PGA announced that this championship would be headed to Quail Hollow, McIlroy put a red line underneath it. He had done the same for the British Open at St Andrews in 2015 only for an ankle injury, suffered in a game of five-a-side, put a stop to that aspiration before it had an chance of deliverance.
McIlroy has made it safely here, with the rib injury that caused disruption to his schedule earlier this year now healed to the extent where he can focus on shots without any second thoughts.
“This has been a week I’ve been looking forward to for a long time and I’m glad it’s here and I’m glad I’m showing up for this week feeling like my game is in good shape,” said McIlroy, who has top-5 finishes in each of his last two events, the British Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
As such, the 20 to 1 odds that were generally available about him heading into the Open at Royal Birkdale have dropped to the point where he is the 7 to 1 favourite here.
“I think it’s partly to do with the upturn in form that I’ve had over the last few weeks, and then my history on this golf course: a couple of wins, beaten in a playoff, a few other top-10s. I think it’s a little bit of both.”
McIlroy’s record at Quail Hollow – prior to the changes, which has seen three new holes constructed by Tom Fazio and the resurfacing of the greens to Bermuda grass – is second to none: in playing the Wells Fargo seven times, he has two wins (2010 and 2015), along with a runner-up finish and three other top-10s.
“I definitely don’t want to be in the mindset this week of wanting to make any type of statement or go out and prove myself. I’m past that point. I’ve proven myself enough over the last nine years of my career. Obviously I haven’t won as much as I would have liked this year, and there’s been a few components to that, injury-wise, changing equipment and stuff. It has been a bit of a transitional year. But I feel like everything’s settled.
“You know, my health is pretty much where it needs to be. I just want to go out there and play well this week. It’s a golf course I’ve played well on before. But I’m definitely not going out there to try to prove anything to anyone. I just want to go out and play my game and hopefully that will be good enough,” he concluded.