Rory Comfortable at Quail Hollow for PGA
When Quail Hollow in North Carolina was confirmed as venue of the 2017 PGA Championship ahead of the 2010 edition at Whistling Straits, many observers had foreseen a Rory McIlroy major triumph on the Tom Fazio course. The young Northern Irishman had made his PGA Tour winning breakthrough that year on the layout in spectacular fashion, shooting a thrilling 62 on the final day to secure his first title in America. That was the beginning of a journey that has led to this week.
McIlroy's personal history in the beautiful city of Charlotte is formidable. In seven appearances, he has only finished outside the top ten once, losing once in a playoff before setting the course record with a 61 two years ago on route to winning for a second time. Somewhat reminiscent of the feeling towards Tiger Woods and the U.S. Open at his beloved Torrey Pines in 2008, this week in August has for some time been pre-ordained as being the Ulsterman's major to lose.
"I just feel good around here," the 28-year-old said. "I don't know what it is. I've shot a couple of low scores. I've got some great memories. I think once you go back to a place where you do have great memories, all that starts to come flooding back to you and it makes you feel good about yourself. That's sort of how I feel around here."
Of course, it should be noted that there have been significant changes made to the venue since the former world number one had most recently lifted the Wells Fargo trophy. Four holes have been significantly altered or moved on the front-nine, while new grass has installed onto the greens, changing the character of the surfaces. With a dramatic removal of trees, visually the challenge is different from what the players are used to, but the two-time PGA champion remains comfortable with the questions that need to be answered this week.
"I still feel like the golf course gives you plenty of chances," he added. "It's going to play long this week with the weather. Obviously, there's been a lot of rain over the last couple of days. But you know, it will probably play a couple of strokes harder than it used to play, especially with the par going from a 72 to a 71. But I'm excited to be here. This has been a week I've been looking forward to for a long time and I'm glad it's here and I'm glad I'm showing up for this week feeling like my game is in good shape, as well."
Following a disappointing run of missed cuts in the U.S, Irish and Scottish Opens, McIlroy has restored confidence around his game with a T-4th at the Open Championship and a T-5th at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. It's been a season of change, including equipment deals, marriage and more recently the split from long-time caddie J.P. Fitzgerald, but there is something appealing homely and familiar about Quail Hollow.
This has long been seen as Rory's major, and it comes three years since his last triumph. Since then, the biggest events in the game have been dominated by Jordan Spieth, who is on the precipice of joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only golfers to have completed the modern career Grand Slam.
"He has got that knack," McIlroy said of the 24-year-old American. "I call it resilience. I don't know if there's a better word to describe what it is that he has. But he has got this resilience where he gets himself in positions in tournaments where you don't think he can come back from, and he does. It's awfully impressive."
When he claimed the Wanamaker Trophy at Valhalla - coming just weeks after he won the Open at Hoylake, few would have believed that McIlroy wouldn't have added to his tally since then. The passage of time, injuries, and one gun slinging Texan have created a less arable climate for success. However, Quail Hollow may just be the intangible that carries the most prodigious of talents across the line once again. This is his time.
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