At PGA Championship, McIlroy’s the man
McIlroy led from start to finish at Hoylake to win the British Open. Then he overpowered Firestone on the weekend to win his first World Golf Championship. Now he is the overwhelming favorite at the PGA Championship. In some corners, he is deemed to be a sure winner, a label once reserved only for Tiger Woods.
Boy Wonder is not so sure about that.
“Sometimes I feel that people are too quick to jump to conclusions,’’ McIlroy said Tuesday before heading out for his first look at Valhalla. “I’ve had a great run of golf and I’ve played well over the past few months. Look, I said at the start of the year that golf was looking for someone to put their hand up and sort of become one of the dominant players in the game. I felt like I had the ability to do that. And it’s just nice to be able to win a few tournaments and get back to where I feel I should be.’’
He is No. 1 in the world again, having secured three wins in his last seven starts. And with three legs of the career Grand Slam - only Woods and Jack Nicklaus were younger than the 25-year-old McIlroy when they achieved that - there was even talk about the start of a new era.
McIlroy wasn’t buying it.
“I’m just really happy with where my golf game is … and I just want to try and continue that for as long as possible,’’ he said. “And people can say what they want to say. That’s fine. But I can’t read too much into it. ... Because if you read everything that is being written, I’d turn up at the first tee on Thursday thinking I’d already won the tournament.’’
The question lingered Tuesday whether Woods was going to make it to the first tee at all.
Woods injured his back Sunday - just four months after back surgery - and canceled his news conference Tuesday. There was no word on his prospects, presumably because he wanted to give himself as much time as possible to see if he could play.
Even if he does, that wouldn’t take the focus from McIlroy.
McIlroy appears to be in full flight, just as he was in his record victory at Congressional in the 2011 U.S. Open, and just as he was when he won the PGA Championship by a record eight shots in 2012, and then added three more wins during the rest of the year against strong fields.
Valhalla, where Woods won 14 years ago, would appear to be suited for him. Then again, just about any course is for a guy who hits it long and straight.
McIlroy said his work in the gym had added about seven pounds of muscle in recent months, and he was now the heaviest he had ever been. He also shortened his swing, which would make him more accurate off the tee.
“He’s such a great driver,’’ Phil Mickelson said as he looked back on McIlroy’s win at Firestone. “Even though the golf course was fairly tight, and hitting fairways is important, he kept hitting drivers and he kept putting the ball in play and he kept playing the course aggressively and making birdies. And he plays to his strength. He’s just a very good talent. We’ve been waiting a year, year and a half now for it to turn. And it’s really turned for him. And he’s tough to beat.’’
McIlroy was foundering at this time a year ago, missing the cut in three out of six tournaments, not even sniffing contention as he worked through equipment changes. The final touch was an alignment issue he solved after the Masters, and he is soaring now.
Of the 13 players to win a major and a World Golf Championship, McIlroy and Woods are the only ones to win them in consecutive starts. In the past 20 years, Woods, Padraig Harrington and Nick Price are the only players to win the final two majors of the year.