Victory at Valhalla was a statement for McIlroy
August 11, 2014
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
- Rory McIlroy leads the PGA TOUR in back-nine scoring average. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- As Rory McIlroy stood on a muddy hill behind the 18th green at Valhalla Golf Club and awaited another major trophy presentation, the bottoms of his white pants filthy from slugging it out with some of the biggest names in golf, a lone voice rose from the crowd and out of the darkness.
“Rory!” the male voice shouted. “You’re the man!”
He is indeed. Take a good look because the 25-year-old Northern Irishman transformed right in front of us with his victory Sunday at the PGA Championship.
If his major triumph a few weeks ago at Royal Liverpool was for his "mum" Rosie, and the one two years earlier at Kiawah Island for his dad Gerry, then this one was for him.
The first major McIlroy won at Congressional in 2011 was a spectacle. This victory was a statement.
It was stamped with a low, slicing 3-wood that McIlroy necked off the soggy green fairway to reach the par-5 10th hole in two. “The ball flight was probably around 30 feet lower than I intended, and the line of the shot was probably around 15 yards left of where I intended,” McIlroy admitted. “It was lucky, it really was.”
But the best always make their own luck and that’s why this win was the most satisfying of them all to McIlroy. His first three majors were basically blowouts -- two of them by eight shots, another by an easy two. This one required him to fight.
Fight through coming out flat, playing his first six holes in 2 over and watching a one-stroke lead evaporate in the Kentucky heat.
Fight through body blows from Phil Mickelson, fellow boy wonder Rickie Fowler and reigning FedExCup champ Henrik Stenson, all of whom charged past him at one point or another during the day.
Fight through a slog around a waterlogged golf course, the mental and physical fatigue of trying to win for a third straight start and second consectuive major and a hurried, wacky finish the final groups raced to beat the disappearing daylight.
“I just knew,” McIlroy said. “I knew that I'd have my chance.”
And he took it. Unlike when he blew it by playing prevent defense at Augusta three years ago, McIlroy didn't get conservative this time.
He bounced back from a messy bogey on the sixth with a must-make birdie on the easy par-5 seventh. Then it began: An eagle at 10 after slinging his ball to 7 feet, followed by a birdie from 2 feet on 13. The three-shot deficit McIlroy faced at the turn was gone.
The deciding blow came on 17 when he threw a dart from a fairway bunker that landed 10 feet from the hole to set up one last birdie to punctuate a final-round 68 and a four-day total of 16-under 268.
“That was all heart, really, coming down the stretch,” his caddie J.P. Fitzgerald said. “He saw guys were 15 under and knew he had to respond or he was beat. When you’re three behind with four or five guys in front of you, you really have to find something, step it up.”
Or step on them, which is what the 5-foot-10, 160-pound curly-haired kid with the quaint accent from Holywood, Northern Ireland, did. Don’t let the charm fool you. He proved, as David Feherty put it, that he is a baby-faced assassin.
Just how good is McIlroy?
Jack Nicklaus thinks he is capable of winning 15 or 20 majors. Mickelson doled out more immediate and direct praise.
“Better than everyone else right now,” he said of McIlroy, No. 1 in the world and No. 1 in the FedExCup. “Yeah, he's good. Really good.”
McIlroy became just the fourth player in the last century to win four majors by age 25 or younger. The others were Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Bobby Jones. And that's just the beginning.
McIlroy already has more majors than Hall of Famers Jimmy Demaret, Cary Middlecoff, Billy Casper, Nick Price, Hale Irwin and Vijay Singh. He has as many as Ernie Els, Ray Floyd, Young Tom Morris and Old Tom Morris. And now he’s within one of Byron Nelson, Seve Ballesteros and Mickelson.
Only four others have won an Open Championship and a PGA in the same year -- Woods, Price, Walter Hagen and Padraig Harrington.
“It's beginning to look a little Tiger-esque I suppose,” Graeme McDowell said. “I didn't think we were going to see the new Tiger era, as in someone creating their own kind of Tiger-esque era just yet. I'm not eating my words but I'm certainly starting to chew on them right now. ... Pretty special stuff, yeah.”
So was the way McIlroy devoured another major.
“To win it in this fashion and this style, it means a lot,” he said. “It means that I know that I can do it. I know that I can come from behind. I know that I can mix it up with the best players in the world down the stretch in a major and come out on top.”
Which is exactly where McIlroy is now and will be for the foreseeable future.