PGA Championship: Rory McIlroy goes into tournament on the crest of a wave

'My game has never been in better shape'

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The way Rory McIlroy is torching golf tournaments these days he could win the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth this week in his sleep, which is just as well since slumber is uppermost on his agenda as he approaches his fourth event in a month.

McIlroy defends the crown he won for the first time last year, a victory that triggered the most prolific run of his career. The plunder continued with victory at the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday, his second in three weeks and 11th in total on the PGA Tour, and by a record score of 21 under par,

Next week he returns to Northern Ireland to contest the Irish Open at Royal County Down as co-promoter of the tournament, such is his stature as the pre-eminent force in golf. And it’s not just competing that detains him. As the foremost mannequin in Nike’s golfing portfolio, McIlroy was airborne almost the moment his final putt dropped at Quail Hollow, destined for London to fulfil sponsor’s obligations at the flagship West End store.

“It hasn’t caught up with me yet,” he said. “Hopefully it doesn’t catch up with me in the next two weeks. I’m going to try to get a lot of sleep in between now and teeing it up on Thursday and hopefully I’m ready to go.”

When the ball is on string as it has been these past few weeks, the scorecard takes care of itself. Between the victories at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play and Wells Fargo, McIlroy posted a top 10 at the Players Championship, which is about as bad as it gets for the world No 1. He was initially undecided about playing at Quail Hollow. The decision looks a good one now.

“I have accomplished a lot of things the last few weeks. After the Masters I was outside the Top 100 in the FedExCup rankings. Now I’m up to No 3. I wanted to make a push and get up there even though there’s still a long way to go in that. It’s just a great momentum builder. Going into the thick of the season, I’ve still got three majors coming up, a lot of things to play for, and I don’t feel like my game has ever been in better shape, so I’m excited for the next few months.”

McIlroy admits to a sense of liberation after the Masters, where he was attempting to become only the sixth player in history to win all four majors. “There was a lot of expectation going into Augusta, a lot of hype, lot of expectation that I put on myself. It was a great opportunity to do something that very few players in this game have done. I’ll go back next year with the same opportunity. But since then it has been a little bit of a weight lifted off the shoulders, not to think about it and just go on and play the rest of the season the way I know that I can play.”

McIlroy’s deployment of the heavy roller on golf’s record books has restored balance to a season that had been in thrall to 21-year-old Jordan Spieth after his win at the Masters. The subsequent success of Peter Pan, aka Rickie Fowler, claiming the biggest victory of his career at the Players nine days ago, bookended the rivalry narrative. McIlroy has yet to win either, which appears to have stirred him to even greater deeds.  

“It does push me. I think you see guys that you know well, guys that are your peers and they’re winning golf tournaments, big golf tournaments, golf tournaments that you want to win. It motivates you and spurs you on to go and maybe practice a little bit harder or just try and play a little bit better. I feel as the best player in the world I want to go at it every week and not so much prove it but just show that.”

A fair crowd packed the ground floor of Niketown in Oxford Street, delaying the journey home for a glimpse of Rory’s glory game. It was the standard helping of harmless froth hosted by Chris Kamara, more panto than Prime Minister’s Question Time. He teed up McIlroy with a series of easy shots to the pin, allowing the world No 1 to inform the audience about the kind of form he brings home to Blighty.

“It’s all good. I’ve been playing really well since this time last year, won seven times. Hopefully I can keep that going,” McIlroy said. He talked about being a role model, an inspiration, a hero to others. “I had to get used to that at the start but now I don’t even notice it.”

And then they handed him a club, hitting into a net in a manner none in the room, or anywhere else for that matter, could hope to match.