McIl­roy feels at home at Quail Hol­low

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C. — 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 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, then he fol­lowed with a 66-62 week­end.

Quail Hol­low also 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.

Those are the rea­sons 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, 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 con­sec­u­tive rounds in the 60s go­ing into the fi­nal ma­jor of the year, although 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 as solid as ever, and that fig­ures to be an ad­van­tage on a course al­ready soft­ened by rain 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 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 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.

But Spi­eth 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 vs. you don’t win a ca­reer Grand Slam, it’s two dif­fer­ent things in my mind.”

McIl­roy 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 — 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’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/TONY DEJAK

Rory McIl­roy won his first PGA Tour event in 2010 at Quail Hol­low Club, site of this week’s PGA Cham­pi­onship. He has played there seven times and fin­ished out of the top 10 only once.

AP/CHRIS CARL­SON

North­ern Ire­land’s Rory McIl­roy hopes to join a short list of play­ers who have won a ma­jor on the same course where they won a PGA Tour event. “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.”

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