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The Telegraph

Rory McIlroy is built for success at Kiawah Island and his rivals know it

Apologies to Collin Morikawa, because contrary to what it says on the Wanamaker Trophy, he will not be the only defending champion at Kiawah Island this week. According to Sir Nick Faldo and Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy will also be proudly holding that status at the 103rd USPGA Championship. “Rory will walk in there feeling like he is the defending champion — he won there last time and all those old feelings of victory will come back,” Faldo said. “I had the same thing at Muirfield at the Open in 1992. This is the first chance Rory gets to play a major where he’s won a major before and I’m telling you, it’s a great boost. Especially as he won there by eight shots in 2012.” Harrington concurs. “But I’d say that only really counts if you’re playing well. And after what happened in Charlotte, Rory will now believe he is playing well again,” the Irishman said. McIlroy’s victory in Quail Hollow last Sunday resonated far more than just another title on his creaking CV. Not only was it his first win in 18 months and seemingly perfectly timed after missed cuts in his previous two strokeplay events — two “biggies” in The Players Championship and The Masters — but it validated his overhaul of the backroom staff. In the midst of this mini-slump — that featured McIlroy falling to world No 13, his worst ranking in more than 11 years — Pete Cowen was brought in as swing coach and Dr Bob Rotella was enlisted as a psychologist. They also happen to be the two experts in Harrington’s corner and Europe’s Ryder Cup captain could be found in the Craig Ranch clubhouse last week — at the Dallas course where is competing in the Byron Nelson —laughing at the coincidence. “It didn’t have anything to do with me!” Harrington said. “Rory’s very much his own man, but he was clearly having a bad time of it. You get beaten down, everyone gets beaten down and it wasn’t just the media, or social media, doing it – he was beating himself down. Unbelievably, so. I’ve never heard him so low. “The thing with Rory is that it is only a matter of time. He does go into these ebbs and flows and, with him, I would say it’s always gonna turn around, he’s gonna win and it’s gonna be all happy days again. It’s just about being patient until it is. But it’s easy to look in and say that. If you’re in that man’s shoes it’s an entirely different thing. It’s hard to be patient, especially when the criticisms and questions keep coming. The world has an opinion on Rory and Rory knows that.” It is seven years since McIlroy last won a major and with every passing attempt — he has competed in 23 majors since the 2014 USPGA — the queries have flashed louder and the doubt of the inquisitors has become more evident. “It’s the elephant in the room and you have to think about it, it cannot be avoided,” Harrington said. “Because even if you become all defensive, you are engaging with it and it is in your mind. And when you have won majors by eight shots — not just once [at Congressional in the 2011 US Open} but twice [at Kiawah, in the 2012 USPGA] — people are inevitably going to say ‘what’s going on?’. You know, in my time only Tiger [Woods] and Rory have been able to lap the field. It’s an incredible thing to be able to, but it has a downside. “You’ve made it look simple to the punters, so they want to know why you don’t do it every time, never mind every seven years. That is the challenge for Rory and Rotella can help. With Pete, Rory will get the trust back in his swing and Rotella can do his thing.”