Rory McIlroy has got the Americans running scared. The US Ryder Cup captain, Tom Watson, said it all: “I wish he was on my team.” The deference, respect and indeed fear engendered by the name Rory McIlory is a thing to behold. It is not just that he wins, but how he wins that is reshaping golf’s parameters.
The US PGA Championship victory at Valhalla was his second major triumph in a month, and the most dramatic of the four he has tabled at the age of 25. Snaps of him holding the Wanamaker Trophy and the Claret Jug in the Valhalla club house captured the dawn of the post-Tiger era.
As Watson observed, McIlroy knows it, and so do his rivals. With nine holes to play McIlroy was in new territory, three shots adrift. His three previous major wins came on the back of huge 54-hole leads. Here he needed to reel in three players going away from the field, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson, and he did, with a shot to spare.
“Satisfaction and joy are the two biggest things,” McIlroy said after his victory. “Satisfaction I was able to win and the manner I won, and joy that I have been able to keep this run of form going. I said at The Open that I wanted to keep moving forward, I didn’t want that to be the end of the season for me, I wanted to win more. I was able to back that victory up with a win at the Bridgestone Invitational and to come here to Valhalla and do it all over again.
“To win the way that I did, I know I can do it now. I was standing on the 10th fairway three behind and to know I can come back from that and shoot 32 on the back nine of a major and win is something that will stand with me for the rest of my career.”
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The man with the best view in the house, his caddie, universally known as JP, was left as awestruck as the rest of us. “Seeing the guys 15 under was what kick-started him. If you don’t respond you’re beaten.
“He’s always handled himself well even when he was 19 but I guess he’s got better when things aren’t going his way. He’s a big star now. The 3-wood on the 10th was a favourite shot, and when the putt went in at 17 that was it.”
Fitzgerald agrees with his boss about the calibre of result. “That was his best win. Every win is special but when you are three behind with three guys in front of you and nine holes to go you really have to step it up. He was five-under for the last 12. He managed to pull it off again.”
The aura of invincibility is already penetrating the field. Colin Montgomerie, who made the cut at Valhalla after qualifying via his senior PGA triumph, echoed the famous eulogy he once made to Woods. “Rory is in that state right now. We all know that.
“He’s playing a different course to everybody else. He’s the best player in the world. I said that before he won Bridgestone, if he plays his best he will win. You don’t need to look at the scoreboard.”
Graeme McDowell concurred. “I said at The Open that I didn’t think we were ready to start talking about the next Tiger. I think I’ll have to start chewing on my words.”