Rory McIlroy arrives at the 103rd PGA Championship seeking his first major triumph since 2014 after snapping an 18-month US PGA Tour win drought last week.
And it won’t hurt that the four-time major winner from Northern Ireland is returning to Kiawah Island, where he won the 2012 PGA by a record-setting eight-stroke margin.
“Hopefully history repeats itself,” McIlroy said. “But I’m just happy that I can hit the golf shots I need to under pressure.
“You just need to get yourself in the position to put yourself under pressure to hit the shots that really matter.”
After struggling through the Covid-19 pandemic while playing without spectators, McIlroy has found his form and won for the first time since the 2019 WGC Shanghai event.
McIlroy won a third career victory at Quail Hollow and his first since becoming a father, wife Erica having given birth to daughter Poppy last year.
“He’s coming off a win,” 2015 PGA winner Jason Day of Australia said. “He’s very confident right now, so going to be very dangerous.”
Nobody recognizes that fact more than McIlroy, who is encouraged and confident after seeing hard work with new coach Pete Cowen pay off.
“This victory is very important going into Kiawah,” he said. “I played really well there last time. I’ll go up there and try to do my homework and re-familiarize myself with the layout a little bit.
“It’s certainly great timing. This is obviously a huge confidence boost going in there knowing that my game is closer than it has been.”
McIlroy, 32, was only two when the 1991 Ryder Cup “War on the Shore” was contested on the Ocean course, the US squad edging Europe in a fight filled with gamesmanship.
When the golf world returned for the 2012 PGA, McIlroy was overwhelming.
“Only thing I do remember is Rory ran away with it and killed it,” Day said.
“I remember Rory dominating,” said two-time major winner Zach Johnson. “Especially the last so many odd holes. I remember the par-3s being brutal.”
Now McIlroy will play a major for the first time on a course where he has won a major, and can reflect on the journey he and his game have taken.
“I’ve watched a couple of videos over the last few weeks, just sort of trying to refamiliarize myself with the course a little bit,” McIlroy said.
“I chipped and putted so well that week. That’s the one thing I remember. I got it up and down a lot and my chipping and putting was really good.”
– ‘Resolve is incredible’ –
McIlroy says he has more ways to work his way around the course than he could pull off nine years ago.
“I was probably maybe a little more one dimensional, but it was a very consistent move. I hit this big swooping draw all the time, but it was consistent,” McIlroy said.
“I’m probably a little more versatile now. I probably have a few more shots in the locker. It’s just a matter of choosing those shots correctly and hitting them at the right times.”
At Quail Hollow, he did just that, Day said.
“He was hitting a lot of quality iron shots into the greens. Short game was off the charts and holing a lot of good putts,” Day said. “Kiawah Island is a pretty big course. He’ll need his distance and his short game going to be crucial.”
Also among those expecting big things from McIlroy at Kiawah is reigning US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau.
“He has obviously got great chances,” DeChambeau said. “We all knew he was going to go back and win at some point. He was struggling, but his resolve is incredible and his ability to play the game is undeniably unbelievable, I would say Hall of Fame worthy as time goes on.
“If he continues to improve, he’s going to a force to be reckoned with for a long time.”