Rory McIlroy licking his lips with PGA Championship forecast
Promised thunderstorms disrupt practice; and, secondly, they ensures a softer course
Rory McIlroy during the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio. Photograph: Getty Images
The weather forecast is an integral part of all golf tournaments, with bulletins posted around the locker room. Most players have apps, for more up to date information.
So, we can only assume Rory McIlroy licked his lips with some anticipation when discovering that the days leading up to this US PGA Championship at Quail Hollow involve thunderstorms and more thunderstorms, which will do two things: firstly, disrupt planned practice; and, secondly, ensure a softer course.
All of which would provide a little symmetry with the Northern Irishman’s past conquests of the Wannamaker Trophy, at Kiawah Island in 2012 and at Valhalla in 2014. On both occasions, the championships were disrupted by similar storms and contributed to softer setups which only served to ensure that McIlroy’s long, accurate drives consistently found the fairways and provided the launch pad for attack after attack to receptive greens.
As Jordan Spieth - who enters this final Major of the season with a chance to claim the career Grand Slam, just a week past his 23rd birthday - admitted in placing the tag of favouritism on McIlroy: “I would say Rory’s probably the guy to beat at this point. I played with him the first two days (at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational) and the way that he is driving the golf ball, if he continues to do it there, he just has a massive advantage over the field. Someone who’s had such success (at Quail Hollow), he and Rickie (Fowler) and Phil (Mickelson) played it really well (in the past), these guys have good feelings there. The golf course is changed, but it is similar enough that they’ve got good vibes there.”
If those words had come from the mouth of another, you’d smile and suggest it was all a little bit of showmanship in the run-up to a week when Spieth has the opportunity to join an elite club of career Grand Slam winners. His every move in attempting to become just the sixth member of that group will be followed in minute detail.
Yet, there is very much an element of truth in what he says. McIlroy knows Quail Hollow better than anyone, with two PGA Tour wins (in the Wells Fargo championship) and a runner-up finish on the course. He has also factored in short visits there to review the course changes ahead of this PGA Championship, making a point of getting familiar with the new Bermuda grass greens.
Of being made favourite by Spieth, McIlroy replied: “He can be the favourite. No. Trying to take some pressure off himself, I see what he’s trying to do. I don’t know, jeez. I’ve won a couple times around there, I like PGA Championship setups . . . if I’m the favourite, I’m the favourite. I’m happy with that. It means I’m playing well, much different than how I went into my last majors. It’s amazing what two weeks can do. Such is life!”
With back-to-back top-five finishes at the British Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational - and he will again have his friend Harry Diamond on the bag for the PGA - there are signs that McIlroy is ready to move up a gear, especially if he manages to get his wedges dialled in.
In fact, wedge play has been a focus of McIlroy’s build-up to the PGA with the player tweaking his swing slightly to keep the flight down. “I really enjoy some of the courses we’ve been to in a PGA Championship. They suit my style of game, they’re long and not too narrow . . . and I think in August time it’s usually humid, conditions are a little bit softer and that obviously plays into my hands as well.”
And of Diamond’s first week in taking over from long-time custodian of the bag JP Fitzgerald, McIlroy gave his pal an “A” grade for his work. “Harry was good. He encouraged me when I needed it. We both did yardages. We didn’t really make any mistakes out there. He did what was expected of him, so I guess you can’t not give him an A,” said McIlroy, who moved on to Charlotte with a primary objective of getting acquainted with the Bermuda grass greens.
The last tournament on which players putted on such greens was at The Players championship at Sawgrass back in May. “It’s just about getting back into that (Bermuda grass mindset) and maybe reading putts from all four sides, seeing the greens, looking at the hole, seeing the damage from what side of the hole, and just try to get into that mindset again,” said McIlroy, who scheduled an 18 holes practice round on Monday aware of the poor weather forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday ahead of the tournament.
McIlroy at the PGA
2016 Missed Cut