Rory McIlroy says Wentworth win the catalyst for hot streak
Justin Rose and Danny Willett among likely contenders for BMW PGA Championship
Thriving on the intimidation factor: Rory McIlroy holds press court at Wentworth on Wednesday. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA
Rory McIlroy is very comfortable in his own skin. That much is obvious.
On the 18th green here at Wentworth yesterday, his final act of the pro-am was to shake hands with former Manchester United footballers Phil Neville and Paul Scholes before giving one of those bromance hugs to One Direction singer Niall Horan.
The golf from the quartet had been anything but stellar; quite moderate in fact. Now, though, back to where his hot streak of last season first got going, things turn serious again, for McIlroy anyway.
It was here in the BMW PGA Championship a year ago that McIlroy shifted into top gear with a title win that was the spur towards global dominance. He has hardly taken his foot off the pedal since. In all, he has won seven times in the past 12 months – two Majors, two WGCs and three other tournament titles – and stretched his lead in the official world rankings to 4.46 over second-placed Jordan Spieth. These days, McIlroy is playing a different game from everyone else.
McIlroy’s wins have come in the WGC-Cadillac Matchplay and the Wells Fargo Championship, and he has returned to Europe – part of a five-week stretch that finishes with hosting next week’s Irish Open – in no mood to ease up. If anything, his dominance has only served to make him hungrier, with his focus very much on the season’s remaining three Majors, next month’s US Open at Chambers Bay, the British Open at St Andrews in July and the US PGA at Whistling Straits in August.
“I’d be disappointed if I wasn’t to win one of the next three Majors. That’s what really determines a good or a great season for me,” he said. “I’d love to add to my tally.”
“This is what kickstarted everything really. This win [last year], it gave me a lot of confidence to go on into the summer and do what I did.
“It was a real catalyst. I felt like I was playing well before that, but I wasn’t able to turn good finishes into wins. I was finishing in the top 10 or top five, but I wasn’t really contending too much . . . and, who knows, if I hadn’t had this tournament [win], things might have been a bit different. It was definitely the start of a great 12 months.”
Until his victory in last year’s championship, the West Course had been “a grind”, to use his own words. He missed the cut in both 2012 and 2013, and it wasn’t all plain sailing en route to his victory last year as he entered last year’s final round seven strokes behind the leader after 54 holes, Thomas Bjorn, who imploded. Indeed, it was Shane Lowry who finished as McIlroy’s closest challenger.
“It’s a massive event for the European players . . . . but this is a tournament that I wasn’t sure I’d ever win in my career, just because of my relationship with the West Course. It was nice to win it,” he said.
As we’ve seen from the past, McIlroy, once he is on a streak, can be nigh impossible to stop. Once he gets hot, he stays hot for weeks and months on end. Yet despite his hot favouritism, this tournament is far from a one-man show.
McIlroy, as he is everywhere, is the headline act, but there are subplots and potential challengers at every turn, with Justin Rose – the only other player from the world’s top 10 – also in good form, while another Englishman, Danny Willett, is McIlroy’s closest pursuer in the Race to Dubai standings.
But McIlroy is undoubtedly the man to beat. His latest tournament win, in Quail Hollow last Sunday, came with a seven-stroke margin over his nearest challengers. It doesn’t matter to McIlroy if wins come by a country mile or by a nose.
“I feel like now I’m a player that can win all different sorts of ways, which I’m happy about,” he said. “I can be in contention and gut it out with a few other players or separate myself [from the field],” he said.
Either way will do for McIlroy.