McIlroy the 'right guy' at No. 1 entering PGA Championship

mfields@herald-leader.comAugust 6, 2014 

  • PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

    When: Thursday-Sunday

    Where: Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville

    Defending champion: Jason Dufner

    TV: TNT (1-7 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday) and CBS-27 (2-7 p.m. Saturday-Sunday)

LOUISVILLE — Rory McIlroy, who has ascended to No. 1 in the world golf rankings with his fabulous play of late, comes into the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla riding a wave of media hype.

While Tiger Woods struggles to find his mojo, McIlroy is regarded as the next big thing in golf. He's young (25), he's personable, he has a cool accent (Irish), and he's only a Masters title shy of a career Grand Slam after his British Open triumph last month.

Asked whether he's heard talk about this being the "Rory era," and whether he's comfortable with people saying he brings "a new splendor" to the game, McIlroy, to his credit, didn't laugh at the questions. But he didn't he dismiss them, either.

"Sometimes I feel that people are too quick to jump to conclusions and jump on the bandwagon," he said.

"I've had a great run of golf, and I've played well over the past few months.

"I said at the start of the year that golf was looking for someone to put their hand up and sort of become one of the dominant players in the game. I felt like I had the ability to do that."

McIlroy, like Woods, has the talent to run away with majors. He won the 2011 U.S. Open by eight shots and the 2012 PGA by the same margin. He led last month's British Open by seven shots on the final day before winning by two.

McIlroy followed that by winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last weekend.

In his last two starts — at Royal Liverpool and Fire stone — McIlroy shot a cum ulative 32-under par.

Paul McGinley, who'll captain the Europeans in the Ryder Cup next month, said it looked as if McIlroy had "an extra gear compared to everybody else in the world.

"He's in a purple patch at the moment, and playing very well."

Adam Scott, the Australian who was atop the world rankings, conceded that "the right guy is No. 1 at the moment. There's no doubt Rory has played the best golf over the last few months."

Phil Mickelson isn't surprised McIlroy has emerged as a dominant player.

"He's just a very good talent," Mickelson said. "We've been waiting a year or a year-and-a-half for it to turn, and it's really turned for him now. Everything is clicking and firing, and he's tough to beat."

The PGA field is stacked with challengers to McIlroy, including Sergio Garcia, who pushed him to the finish in the British Open and WGC-Bridgestone.

Garcia said he enjoys his rivalry with McIlroy and is happy to see his Ryder Cup teammate succeed. Garcia doesn't lament that his own strong play has earned him only runner-up finishes.

"The only thing I can do is try to play the best I can, and if I manage to do that, I've shown that I can play really, really well," he said. "If somebody else plays better, the only thing I can do is congratulate him and move on."

If Garcia wins this week, he could take over the No. 1 ranking if McIlroy finishes outside the top five.

Scott and Henrik Stenson also have a shot at moving up to No. 1 if they claim the Wanamaker Trophy.

U.S. Open champ Martin Kaymer also is worth watching now that he's healthy.

Scott has been the most consistent golfer in majors during the past three years. He has seven top-10 finishes, including a 2013 Masters title.

But Scott wants more. He said his fifth-place finish at the British Open left him "extremely disappointed.

"I played really well. There are lots of good things to take from that, but I still didn't get to lift the trophy."

Jason Dufner is the PGA's defending champ. He won last summer at Oak Hill for his first major title.

The crowds at Valhalla will have a rooting interest in Kentuckians J.B. Holmes and Kenny Perry.

While it wouldn't be a surprise if Holmes contends, Perry is treating this PGA as a chance to bow out in front of his home-state fans. Perry turns 54 Sunday, and if he's able to make the cut and play over the weekend, it'll be reason to celebrate.

McIlroy, meanwhile, hopes to celebrate his fourth major and become the first golfer to win back-to-back majors since Irishman Padraig Harrington took the British Open and PGA in 2008.

"People can say what they want to say. That's fine," McIlroy said of his being touted as the favorite. "But I can't read too much into it. I just need to continue to practice hard and play well.

"If I read everything that has been written, I'd show up to the first tee on Thursday thinking I'd already won the tournament."

Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: Fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.

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