Rory has a history of excellence at host course of PGA Championship
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Jordan Spieth is going for a career grand slam at this PGA Championship and doesn’t appear to have a care in the world.
Rory McIlroy hasn’t won a major in three years, but his 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 six feet for an eagle that allowed him to make the cut on the number. He then 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 seven-shot victory. He has played here seven times and has finished out of the top 10 just once.
There’s a reason McIlroy has been looking forward to this PGA Championship. And it’s a big reason why he is the betting favorite 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, but he doesn’t feel any different.
“I told you those odds wouldn’t last long,” he said on 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 course — a couple of wins,
Five major Hollow hopefuls
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 was not 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 as solid as ever, and that figures to be an advantage on a course already softened by rain on Tuesday and with storms forecast for the rest of the week.
McIlroy, like Spieth, also has three legs of the career grand slam. He’s 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, too.
McIlroy won the British Open at Hoylake in 2014 and then had to wait nearly nine months for the Masters. That was plenty of time to think about 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 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 winning a major versus winning a career grand slam,” Spieth said. “If you don’t win a major, you can’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 his year doesn’t end without 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 remain as world 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 — Tiger 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 are certain 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. That’s sort of how it feels here.”
The 39-year-old American enjoyed his best major finish with a runnerup effort behind Spieth at the British Open. Kuchar, who also tied for fourth this year at the Masters, has nine top 10s in majors without a victory. Could a major breakthrough be on tap at the PGA? The only PGA Championship winner since 2008 who wasn’t a first-time major winner was McIlroy, in 2012 and 2014. Had Tiger not come around, I don’t feel I would have pushed myself to achieve what I ended up achieving.” Phil Mickelson, on Tiger Woods’ influence
“I thought I was really one of the top players, which I was, but that was a pretty special display of golf. I had quite a few run-ins with him in majors. It wasn’t really very close.
“This guy is so special and he absolutely changed the game. He got us to really elevate our games. But I could have had a couple more, definitely, without him around.”
Els won the 1994 and 1997 US Opens and the 2002 and 2012 British Opens. Mickelson won the 2004, 2006 and 2010 Masters, the 2005 PGA and the 2013 British Open.
Els was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011, Mickelson the following year.
“I think it will take a while to kind of sink in for the two of us, but it’s pretty cool,” Els said of becoming golf centurions.
Mickelson agreed: “It just goes by so fast. You don’t think about it. It has been a lot of fun. I know we both want to win a couple more.”
Each man was asked to pick one shot from his majors as his best. Mickelson named his blast from the pine straw around a tree on the 13th hole at Augusta on the way to victory in 2010. Els picked his second shot at 17 to help seal his second US Open title at Congressional.
“Lefty” and “The Big Easy” sized up each other’s legacy as well, Mickelson citing Els’ work with autism charities as well as his golfing skills.
“What Ernie has done for autism, I think that’s the legacy he’s leaving because he’s changing lives and impacting a lot of lives of people that go through autism,” Mickelson said.
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland tracks a drive during Tuesday’s practice round ahead of the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina.