Congrats to Rory McIlroy on cruising to his second major victory with the PGA Championship (and thanks for the show to save an otherwise frustrating week…).
That was one hell of a round of golf, playing in the final group and going into the final day with the lead. He not only closed out the tournament — he did it in style, firing a beautiful, bogey-free six-under 66 to win by eight strokes, the largest margin of victory in PGA Championship history (record previously held by Jack Nicklaus who won by seven in 1980). It sure was fun to watch.
He also ended the streak of 16 different winners in the previous 16 majors. Finally. Welcome to the new era, the 2010s, where the man in red on Sunday hoisting the trophy isn’t always named Tiger Woods (so 2000!).
I was lucky to have a front-row seat to the action on the back nine (fine, more like 7 — I caught up to him on 12).
What I saw was great ballstriking — which eerily reminded me of the 2010 PGA at Whistling Straits, where I followed Rory on the front nine on Sunday (if I recall correctly, I was the one of two or three reporters). I was wowed by his massive drives and dart-like approaches that left him with good looks for birdies.
He missed at least five or six putts from inside 10-ish feet (probably more but it’s been a while — I can probably pull it up in my archives). It was a bit frustrating to watch. Okay, so frustrating that I had to leave. He missed a few short ones on the back nine, too. I ranted to anyone who would listen that Rory would have won with ease had he made half of his putts inside 10 feet.
Two years later at The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, I saw a more mature, stronger, and probably better ballstriker. More important, I saw a better putter, who only needed 23 putts on Sunday. At the start of the day, we knew the key to Rory closing was whether or not he made those 6-8 footers, which has been his Achilles heel in the past. He confidently rolled them in. His short game was money. He missed three greens in the last 7 holes and saved par on Nos. 13, 14 and 17. I was most impressed with his up-and-down on the par-3 14th, which is tough to post a 3 if your tee shot isn’t on the putting surface.
He also made a 7-footer for birdie on the par-5 No. 16 after missing his second shot left.
McIlroy smashed his drive. He was at least 40 yards ahead of Carl Pettersson and 30 yards ahead of Bo Van Pelt. “Rory turned a par-5 into a par-4,” quipped Golf Digest’s Dave Kindred, with a twinkle in his eye. I had almost forgotten it was a par-5. Rory stood over his second shot with an iron and went for the green in two. The fans standing behind me were bewildered.
Fan 1: “He’s not going for the green, is he?”
Fan 2: “He can’t be. He has an iron.”
Amateurs! Of course Rory was going for it in two. You don’t layup if you’re hitting it as well as he was. I loved seeing him play aggressively. He didn’t protect the lead. He stuck to his game and it worked.
He sniped (well, maybe pulled is a better word) his “approach” to the left of the 16th green in the slope or “sandy area.” No big deal, of course. McIlroy chipped it to about 6- or 7-feet again and rolled in the putt for birdie. I had already almost forgotten it was a par-5 (hey, it’s been a long week and it was HOT out there. I don’t think I’ve ever sweat that much, but it was worth it. Duh.).
As he made his way to the 17th green, the fans in the large grandstands chanted, “Rory, Rory!” It kind of felt similar to last June at Congressional when he won the U.S. Open by eight. Naturally, he saved par from just left of the green — it was a good miss. In my notes I wrote in all caps: “ANOTHER UP-AND-DOWN!”
Rory killed another drive on the 18th. He hit it on the green, but had a long putt for birdie.
I had walked ahead to the back of the green and the first person I ran into was Rory’s dad, Gerry McIlroy, who greeted me with a hug and kiss on the cheek. That’s just Gerry for you. He remembers your name only if he’s met you once and who you work for and what you do. Rory is the same way. Like father, like son. He was also ridiculously calm for a dad whose son was about to win his second major. Again, that’s Gerry — even-keeled and pleasant. In fact, he might be my favorite tour dad or just plain favorite person on tour!
I guess I was at the right place at the right time. We talked about this-and-that while we waited for Rory to putt and officially declare victory.
At one point, he gestured to the Wanamaker Trophy that was behind the green to our left, and said to me jokingly, “I hope we don’t have to take that home!” He meant to Northern Ireland. Remember Rory’s victory tour after he won the U.S. Open?
When Rory walked up to the green, he immediately looked in the crowd to find his dad and make eye contact. There were no need for words. Both knew what the other was thinking.
Then he dropped that long putt for birdie to cap it off. Wow. I had trouble spitting out the words as I said to Gerry, “Well, that wasn’t pretty cool…capped it off…the cherry on top…” Gerry’s eyes just twinkled and he said something back but I can’t remember. I think he was just proud of his boy. It was an amazing moment.
*”After Rory dropped that long birdie, first thing he did was look over at his dad, who smiled and pumped his fist in the air.”
*”While Rory waited for the rest to putt, stood on edge of green and got his dad’s attn w/big smile, shrugged, put both hands up like what just happened?
*Also pre-winning putt, McIlroy’s dad Gerry said bookies had Rory at 20/1 & lot of people back home were going to cash in.
After Van Pelt and Pettersson putted out and all three men and their caddies shook hands, Gerry and Rory met halfway and embraced.
I felt a chill down my spine — like I did at Congressional when Rory won the 2011 U.S. Open. It was different, but similar. You just know when you’ve witnessed a magical moment.
Sorry, I’m exhausted and can barely keep my eyes open. Stay tuned for more coverage and an updated version tomorrow. Thanks!
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)