PGA Championship: Rory McIlroy returns to scene of last year's lift-off determined to soar

McIlroy joined Paul Scholes and Phil Neville for the preparatory Pro-Am

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The Independent Online

It is week four of five on the spin and no sign yet of the train that is Rory McIlroy running out of steam. A round of golf with a card in his hand is almost a day off for the world No 1 in this frenetic phase of sponsor engagements and dinner shows, and so it was with a sense of relief that he headed back to the hotel to prepare for his defence of the BMW PGA Championship.

In preparation he had walked with football royalty, Paul Scholes, his footman, Phil Neville and boy band Narcissus, Niall –wrong direction – Horan around Wentworth, which, judging by the arboreal nature of the landing zones, must have made the hard yards of the West Course even tougher to bear.

“Fore right, fore left,” has the making of a song title or maybe a book should young Niall fancy a literary detour to spell out his love of golf. Scholes, hitting out of a crouch, has the back swing of an 80-year-old, but gets through the ball as he used to on the football pitch,  and goes at flags as if they were goals.

The less said about Neville the better. A competent footballer and a good enough cricketer to interest Lancashire in his youth, Neville is constantly fighting the  disappointment of not being as good at golf as he thinks he should be.


McIlroy stood imperious amid the topped shots and shanks, quietly using the day to remind himself of the lines to take when the whistle blows for real. His drive at the last was as good as any he has hit all year, and that is saying something, sailing over the trees down the right to take the dog-leg out of the equation.

He did not bother hitting the second. What’s another short iron into a green he knows like the back of his hand? This, of course, is where it all started to go right a year ago following the shock disclosure of his split from fiancée Caroline Wozniacki. With the smoke from the burning wedding invitations still in his nostrils, McIlroy went on to post one of his great come-from-behind victories, a win that presaged the summer of his life.

“This is what kick-started everything, really. This win, it gave me a lot of confidence to go on and do what I did [back-to-back majors at the Open, US PGA]. I feel OK. I’ll try to rest up again tonight and make sure I’m fresh and ready to go tomorrow.”

His latest stretch began with victory at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play on the first Sunday in May and continued the following week at the Players Championship before running straight into the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow last week, when he won by seven shots.

You might say he was hot news when he pitched up in the West End on Monday to hit balls into a net at Nike’s main London store. Not only is he a walking billboard for his club and clothing supplier, he is also the man driving business on the European Tour, filling broadcast platforms with endless soundbites ahead of the tour’s flagship event.

And so we have heard how McIlroy wants to rule the world, to win at least one of the three remaining majors this year, to make the most of an incredible period before the inevitable occurs and golf gets its own back. None are exempt from the vicissitudes of a maddening game, and McIlroy knows this as well as any. “Golf is very fickle and can humble you quite quickly,” he said. “I just want to finish off this stretch of golf as well as I can.”