KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -– Rory McIlroy could only marvel at the view when he arrived Monday afternoon in Kiawah Island’s locker room. He overlooked the Atlantic Ocean from a second-story window as he settled in for the season’s final major.
“I just have a good feeling about this week,” he thought to himself.
He sat in the PGA Championship’s media center nearly a week later, the Wanamaker Trophy positioned just inches from him. “It’s funny how things work out,” he said, his premonition having been realized by another dominant major triumph. A Sunday 66 gave the 23-year-old an eight-shot victory over unheralded Englishman David Lynn.
McIlroy finished at 13-under 275 after matching the tournament’s low score in the final round.
Even he could only laugh when that final putt fell in the hole at No. 18. The 20-footer was necessary for only record-setting reasons, allowing him to break Jack Nicklaus’ 32-year-old record for largest victory margin at the PGA.
“I don’t care if I win by one or eight. I just want to win,” said McIlroy, who was tied for the lead when the third round resumed Sunday morning after the previous day’s storms. He shot 1 under for the nine holes required to finish his third round, enough to extend his lead to three shots at the start of the final round. He never gave the field a chance, going bogey-free in the final round. He made just one bogey in Sunday’s 27 holes.
“It’s a little bit like Tiger 10 years ago,” said Peter Hanson, who finished seventh. “I see a lot of things being the same way. They don’t look back. They just look forward.”
The post-round hug between McIlroy and his father, Gerry, seemed different after this major title. There was relief in their embrace at Congressional, happiness that any burden from McIlroy’s Masters collapse had been so quickly erased, that questions of “when” wouldn’t harass him for years to come. This time, father and son were exuberant. There were so many reasons to celebrate. Now the question is “how many.”
McIlroy and Tiger Woods are the only two active players under age 40 with multiple major wins. McIlroy also is just the 13th player since 1950 to win majors in consecutive seasons. There aren’t any flukes on that list, either. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are among that club.
“I just want to keep working hard, keep practicing and hopefully there’s a few more of these in my closet when my career finishes,” he said. He earned his second major title four months earlier than Woods.
The comparisons between the two are foolish, but fun. Woods is the last player to produce such dominant victories. McIlroy’s decision to wear a red shirt Sunday was meant to intentionally mimic Woods. It will be tough, all but impossible, for McIlroy to keep up Woods’ pace, though.
Less than a year after Woods picked up his second major at the 1999 PGA, he started the greatest stretch of golf the game has ever seen. He won the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 shots, then finished eight shots ahead at the Open Championship. Those were the first two of four consecutive majors, the Tiger Slam.
Good luck matching that one. Still, McIlroy is the best we’ve got right now. He’s a likable fellow and fun to watch. We should enjoy him for what he is. He has “great attitude and great charisma and great character,” his friend, Graeme McDowell, said. “He’s great for the game.” This is a fickle game, though, so performances such as these should be recognized for their rarity, not expected to become commonplace.
Like McIlroy’s maiden major victory, this win came after struggles. He missed three consecutive cuts this spring (the horror!!), and hadn’t finished better than 40th in the year’s first three majors. A missed cut in his U.S. Open defense was followed by a 60th-place finish at the Open Championship. He finished fifth at last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, his best showing since May’s Wells Fargo Championship.
The struggles raised questions about his personal life, whether the time and energy traversing the world to see girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki was distracting him. “A few people … were probably pushing the panic buttons for no reason,” McIlroy said, referring to media criticism.
His mid-summer slump also had impacted his demeanor, so much so that putting instructor Dave Stockton told McIlroy to play with a smile this week, a tip it seemed McIlroy would never need. There was plenty for him to enjoy about an Ocean Course that so suited his strengths.
Elevated greens forced players to hoist the ball skyward on approach shots, even when the Ocean Course’s strong winds would usually call for a lower trajectory. No one hits it high, especially with the long clubs, better than McIlroy. It’s no coincidence he’s dominated two majors at softer-than-standard layouts. Soft conditions allowed him to be aggressive with every club in his bag.
“It’s as good as it gets,” Hanson said. “There’s probably two guys, with him and Tiger, that can strike it a little bit different than the rest of us can. They have an extra gear.”
McIlroy’s putter gets overlooked because his swing is so visually pleasing, but the flat stick cannot be ignored when dissecting his dominance. He needed just 23 putts Sunday. McDowell said after McIlroy’s Honda Classic victory, the one that vaulted him to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking in March, that McIlroy’s improvement from 8 feet and in was a key part of this year’s rise.
“You could say he’s back to his game,” McDowell said. And how fun it was to watch.