McIl­roy feel­ing right at home at Quail Hol­low for the PGA Cham­pi­onship

Cape Breton Post - - Sports -

Jor­dan Spi­eth is go­ing for a ca­reer Grand Slam at the PGA Cham­pi­onship and doesn’t ap­pear to have a care in the world.

Rory McIl­roy hasn’t won a ma­jor in three years and ex­pec­ta­tions are higher than ever. Blame that on Quail Hol­low. This is where McIl­roy won his first PGA Tour event in 2010 when he fear­lessly fired a 4-iron into the breeze and over the water to 6 feet for an eagle that al­lowed him to make the cut on the num­ber, and then he fol­lowed with a 66-62 week­end. Quail Hol­low is where he shot 61 in the third round to run away from a strong field for a sev­en­shot vic­tory. He has played here seven times and has fin­ished out of the top 10 just once.

It’s not Tiger Woods at Tor­rey Pines.

But there’s a rea­son McIl­roy has been look­ing for­ward to this PGA Cham­pi­onship. And it’s a big rea­son why he is the bet­ting favourite by a slight mar­gin over Spi­eth, who is just three weeks re­moved from win­ning the Bri­tish Open.

The odds on McIl­roy win­ning at Royal Birk­dale were 20-1, some of the high­est ever associated with him. He joked then that it was a good time to back him.

Now he’s listed at 7-1, and he doesn’t feel much dif­fer­ently.

“I told you those odds wouldn’t last long,” he said Tues­day. “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.

“Things are a bit dif­fer­ent than they were a cou­ple of weeks ago.”

McIl­roy has posted seven straight rounds in the 60s go­ing into the fi­nal ma­jor of the year, though he has not been in se­ri­ous con­tention in either the Bri­tish Open or the Bridge­stone In­vi­ta­tional. A bad start held him back at Royal Birk­dale — 5 over through the open­ing six holes — and he was slowed by not hit­ting his wedges close enough or mak­ing enough putts at Fire­stone.

His long game has been solid as ever, and that fig­ures to be an ad­van­tage on a course al­ready soft­ened by rain on Tues­day and with storms in the fore­cast for the rest of the week.

McIl­roy, like Spi­eth, also has three legs of the ca­reer Grand Slam. He is lack­ing only the Mas­ters, and he hasn’t come par­tic­u­larly close in the three years he has gone to Au­gusta Na­tional with a chance to com­plete it. But there are dif­fer­ences. McIl­roy won the Bri­tish Open at Hoy­lake in 2014 and then had to wait nearly nine month for the Mas­ters. That was plenty of time to think about it, to an­swer to it.

“It plays on your mind a lit­tle bit,” he said. “I think that’s where Jor­dan doesn’t have to deal with that com­ing into this week. It’s great to be able to ride on the crest of a wave and just sort of keep it go­ing.”

Spi­eth said that if ev­ery player was polled, all would agree that McIl­roy will win a green jacket. He con­sid­ered McIl­roy’s age (28) and how many more op­por­tu­ni­ties he had in front of him. How­ever, Spi­eth also spoke last month about how im­por­tant it was to cap­ture his first ma­jor at the Mas­ters in 2015 when he was 21. He got it out of the way with­out al­low­ing pres­sure to build as it did for Phil Mick­el­son, who won his first ma­jor at 34, or Ser­gio Garcia, who won the Mas­ters this year at 37.

So why is this dif­fer­ent? Af­ter all, Tom Wat­son was 32 and Arnold Palmer was 31 when they first went to the PGA Cham­pi­onship with a chance to get the ca­reer slam.

“Yeah, but it’s to­tally dif­fer­ent,” Spi­eth said. “Be­cause win­ning a ma­jor ver­sus win­ning a ca­reer Grand Slam ... if you don’t win a ma­jor ver­sus you don’t win a ca­reer Grand Slam, it’s two dif­fer­ent things in my mind.”

McIl­roy, mean­while, isn’t the only player try­ing to make sure the year doesn’t end with­out him win­ning a ma­jor. Dustin Johnson looked good enough to win them all un­til he slipped down the stairs and wrenched his back on the eve of the Mas­ters.

Johnson be­lieves his game is close to where it was be­fore the in­jury. What sep­a­rates him from McIl­roy is Quail Hol­low. Johnson, who will stay at No. 1 re­gard­less of what hap­pens this week, has played Quail Hol­low only three times, and not since 2011. He missed the cut twice and tied for 29th.

McIl­roy al­most feels like he can roll out of bed and play well at Quail Hol­low.

He can only hope to join a short list of play­ers who have won a ma­jor on the same course where they won a PGA Tour event — Woods (Peb­ble Beach and Tor­rey Pines, both times in the same year), Jack Nick­laus (Fire­stone), Ben Ho­gan (Riviera in the same year) and Wal­ter Ha­gen (Olympia Fields).

“There’s cer­tain golf cour­ses that you can see your­self shoot a score on,” McIl­roy said. “You don’t re­ally have to have your best game and you still feel like you have a chance to win. And that’s sort of how it feels here.”

AP PHOTO/CHRIS CARL­SON

Rory McIl­roy of North­ern Ire­land signs au­to­graphs af­ter a prac­tice round at the PGA Cham­pi­onship golf tour­na­ment at the Quail Hol­low Club, Tues­day, in Char­lotte, N.C.

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