KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – There has been the hot Rory McIlroy that included a victory at the Honda Classic, holding off Tiger Woods in the process.
There has been the cold Rory McIlroy, missing three cuts in four starts in the middle of the year – including in his U.S. Open defense at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.
And now there is the hot-and-cold Rory McIlroy, one who fired an opening-round, 3-under 67 in the Open Championship, only to fade to a T-60 finish. But he followed it up with a T-5 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, finishing 67-67-68.
“There was a few goals I set myself early at the start of the year, which I achieved: getting to No. 1 in the world, and playing well, winning a tournament early,” said McIlroy on the eve of the 94th PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.
“And then the second half of the season has been – it still been pretty good. It’s been a little bit more of a struggle. I feel like I’m playing pretty well, so, I mean, if I had to give my season a grade to this point, I’d probably give it a B.”
But McIlroy knows he needs to bring his “A” game this week on a course that could favor him because of his length off the tee. But he knows he needs to stay mentally tough on a track that resembles more of a links-style course than a typical American championship course.
“I think anyone has got a good chance this week, and people that can hit it long and hit in the fairway are going to have a great chance,” McIlroy said.
“I think most Pete Dye courses, anyway, are mental challenges more than physical. Even though this is a very long golf course, mentally you’ve really got to be on the top of your game. And if the wind and rain comes, it’s obviously going to be more about how you mentally approach that than physical.”
The mental side of the game has reared its ugly head in some big moments in 2012, with Adam Scott blowing a four-shot lead with four to play at the Open Championship; Jim Furyk picking up double bogey on the 72nd hole to hand Keegan Bradley a one-shot victory at Bridgestone; and Kyle Stanley falling apart at Torrey Pines to give Brandt Snedeker an unlikely victory.
And McIlroy knows all about failing to hold a lead in a big moment after his collapse in the final round of the 2011 Masters.
“For three days, you’re just playing, you’re playing golf and you’re not really thinking about the result,” McIlroy said. “You’re just trying to get yourself into that position, and when you get yourself into that position, that’s when the pressure comes and when you have to finish it off.
“So obviously the fourth day of any tournament, if you’re in contention, it does feel a little different than the first three days, and you just have to handle that well.”
McIlroy’s goal for this week at Kiawah? Just give himself a chance at the Sunday pressure.
“I can’t sit up here and say, you know, a success would be to win or a top 3 or a top 5. If I feel like I have a decent chance going into Sunday, that’s all I can ask for.”