Rory McIlroy’s revived energy shines through ahead of US PGA

Improved form and rediscovered confidence will help McIlroy tackle ‘really tough test’

Rory McIlroy plays a shot from a bunker on the 17th hole during his practice round yesterday prior to the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course in South Carolina. Photograph: Maddie Meyer/PGA of America via Getty Images

Rory McIlroy plays a shot from a bunker on the 17th hole during his practice round yesterday prior to the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course in South Carolina. Photograph: Maddie Meyer/PGA of America via Getty Images

 

Was there a fear factor exuded by Rory McIlroy back in 2012? Is it back? As Adam Scott recalled of the Northern Irishman’s dominant display of that year’s US PGA Championship, “Rory was giving off that vibe at the time. [It] was his second Major win, and he’s won both by eight [shots], that sounds pretty Tigeresque to me. That was the early Tiger kind of moves.”

Those recollections by the Aussie are spot on, for there was the feeling back then that McIlroy would move like El Tigre and add year on year to his collection of Major titles. In actual fact, it didn’t fully pan out that way. When McIlroy lifted the Wanamaker Trophy nine years ago, it was on reaching the half-way point in his haul. In subsequent years, the Claret Jug and another PGA were added in quick succession in 2014 before the well ran dry.

Yet, there would appear to be a revived energy off McIlroy these days. Where his form dipped last year and on into the earlier part of this season, the change has come with the reappearance of crowds at tournaments and in putting fresh impetus into his team with the additions of Pete Cowen to his coaching ticket and, at the suggestion of Brad Faxon, a renewal of time spent with sports psychologist Dr Bob Rotella.

Validation

McIlroy’s victory in the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow last month ended a drought going back to his 2019 HSBC-Champions tournament win, another “W” to add to his collection. But it was more than just another win, the 28th worldwide professional win of his career provided validation that the changes were working and that the McIlroy of old was truly back.

“It was a great sort of validation that I’m working on the right things, but it was just a step in the process. It was wonderful to get the win but even if I had have came away from Quail without winning, I think I still would have been very encouraged with the sort of golf that I played . . . I guess the big thing that I was really encouraged with at Quail Hollow is it’s my first time really getting myself into contention in a while, and to have those thoughts and movements hold up under that pressure, trying to win a golf tournament, coming down some really tough holes, that’s what I was really pleased with,” he said.

The return to the Ocean Course clearly brings with it good vibes for him, but with no guarantees. “It’s nine years ago. It seems longer. It seems like there’s been a lot of time that’s passed, and I feel like I’m a different person and a different player. I played great here last time, obviously, and won my first PGA and second Major, but just because I did that doesn’t mean that I’m going to find it any easier this week than anyone else.

“It’s a really tough test, especially when the wind is blowing like this. Those last few holes are brutal. It’s going to be a great test . . . look, I’ve maybe got some better memories and better vibes than most of the other guys do, and that’s obviously nice, but I’m not sure it’s going to enable me to play any better ,” said McIlroy, who has been grouped with Justin Thomas, who has the chance to return to world number one with a win, and Brooks Koepka for the first two rounds.

One other difference is that the PGA in 2012 was played in August. The arrival of golf into the Olympics force a seachange, with the championship now switched to a May date.

‘A touch linksy’

“It’s a different time of year,” acknowledged McIlroy. “I think one of the biggest differences that I’ve noticed is it’s not going to be as easy around the greens as it was last time. Last time in August it was hot, humid, the paspalum [grass] was like really strong and dense and lush, so the ball would just sit right up on top and it was easy to just get your lob wedge out, clip it, spin it.

“I feel this year they’re a little more bare, a touch linksy in places, especially with the wind and the dry weather. I don’t think it’s going to be quite as simple as it was around the greens like last time, and that’s the one thing I remember, is that’s what I did so well. I chopped and putted so well that week, and that’s what won me the tournament. I scrambled well, and if the wind keeps up like this again this week, that’s what you’re going to have to do well is chip and putt well.”

McIlroy’s putting was near to flawless in his win at Quail Hollow, where he sank 51 of 51 putts inside six feet with the new Spider X Hydro Blast putter in his hands.

“If I don’t miss from inside six feet this week, I’ll do okay,” he said.

Sounds like he’s giving off that vibe again.

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