McIlroy Blitzes the Field to Win PGA Championship
by Alex Urban | University of GeorgiaImage courtesy of Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America
He doesn’t always win majors, but when he does, Rory McIlroy wins them by eight strokes.
In a performance that was eerily reminiscent of his eight-shot virtuoso triumph at the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, McIlroy made two early birdies in the final round and never let off the gas on his way to a bogey-free 6-under 66 final round and an eight-shot victory over 38-year-old Englishman David Lynn at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in the 2012 PGA Championship.
The eight-shot victory is the largest margin of victory in PGA Championship history, breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record from 1980 when he defeated Andy Bean at Oak Hill Country Club by seven shots.
With his PGA Championship victory, McIlroy won his second major championship at the age of 23, and he is 125 days younger than Tiger Woods when Woods captured the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah, his second major championship.
Donned in a Sunday-red shirt like another notable major champion of the Tiger variety, McIlroy marched to victory, pulling away as other players fell down the leaderboard. Also like Woods in the 2000′s, this win vaulted McIlroy to the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for the second time this year.
“I don’t care if I win by one or eight,” McIlroy said. “It’s just great to put my name on another major championship trophy.”
With third-round play suspended due to storms yesterday, players had to be on the course at 7:45 a.m. to complete their rounds. It was during those nine holes that McIlroy separated himself, building up a three-shot lead that he would never relinquish.
“This is just an incredible day, just continuing my play from before the rain delay yesterday,” McIlroy said. “I set myself a goal to get to 12-under. I thought nobody would be able to catch me if I got to 12-under and I was able to do one better.”
McIlroy has struggled in major championships following his U.S. Open victory last year, prompting many to question everything from his work ethic to his personal life. He said he decided to use that talk as motivation and came to Kiawah Island with a new mentality.
“I made it clear that I wasn’t happy with how I played in majors after the U.S. Open,“ McIlroy said. “If I am being honest I used the criticism as motivation. I got to my locker on Monday and saw it overlooking the putting green and the ocean and I just had a good feeling about this week.”
Whatever McIlroy was feeling obviously worked.
Early in the final round, it looked like Englishman Ian Poulter might have something to say about whose name would be engraved on the Wannamaker Trophy, as he opened his round with five consecutive birdies, narrowly missed a sixth, and then added another at the seventh.
“I couldn’t ask for a better nine holes,” Poulter said. “Making six of the first seven, I knew I had a chance to be fairly close and I was fairly close. I just couldn’t get any closer.”
After his opening string of birdies, Poulter pulled within one of McIlroy’s lead, and with McIlroy in the trees after his second shot on the par-5 second, it seemed as if he might draw even with the 2011 U.S. Open Champion. But Rory executed a beautiful spinning wedge from the woodchips under the trees at the second, converted for a birdie, and added another at the third.
“Rory has obviously played some immense golf out there today and when he plays golf like he’s playing this week, and obviously the last couple of days, he’s very impressive to watch,” Poulter said. “You know, everybody should take note; the guy’s pretty good.”
Poulter drew within two-shots of McIlory’s lead after birdieing the 12th, but gave a shot back at the very next hole after pulling his approach shot well-left into the sand dunes.
In the end, he could not keep the momentum going from early in the round and ended up finishing at 4-under par in a tie for third in a group that included defending champion Keegan Bradley. One consolation Poulter can take away from his week is that he will now likely make the European Ryder Cup Team by merit, an event that is very important to him.
“I was just outside the points. I’m now in the points. By playing well today, obviously it took care of a number of things,” Poulter said.
On the back of seven birdies in eight tries on the par-5s on the weekend, little-known David Lynn finished at 5-under par and was the sole runner-up. This PGA Championship was Lynn’s first event in the United States, and only his second major. In fact, he didn’t even know he received an exemption from the PGA of America until last week.
“I knew that the top 100 in the World Rankings qualifies, and I’ve missed out about four times by a couple of spots, and it was coming down to D-day again,” Lynn said. “And I thought, I am going to miss out here again by one or two spots. I chose not to play in Austria back home to try and sort of protect my ranking and managed to stay inside the top 100.”
While he may not be very well known on these shores — or his own — Lynn was confident coming into the week.
“To be honest with you, I’ve been feeling good at home. I had a great result in the French Open a couple weeks ago, and my game has been feeling like it’s turned a corner a little bit,” he said.
Lynn will need to get used to playing in America, as his finish earns him an exemption to the 2013 Masters, which he said is a dream come true.
“To actually go and get to experience it is going to be amazing and something I’m really going to look forward to,” Lynn said.
36-hole co-leader Woods was unable to mount a weekend charge, failing to break par on the weekend in all four majors this year. Woods’ chances were dashed with his performance early in round three, when he bogeyed four of his first eight holes.
“I came out with probably the wrong attitude yesterday,” Woods said. “I was too relaxed and tried to enjoy it, and that’s not how I play. I play intense and full systems go. That cost me.”
It cost him a chance at a 15th major and his first since the 2008 U.S. Open. While his game is clearly on the right track, leading the PGA Tour in money, scoring average and FedEx Cup points, inconsistent play on the weekends has kept him from continuing his journey to the summit of the golf world — Jack Nicklaus’ major record of 18.
Woods, however, isn’t panicking.
“The thing is, to keep putting myself there. I’m not going to win them all and I haven’t won them all. But the key is putting myself there each and every time, and you know, I’ll start getting them again,” he said.
But the story on Sunday was all McIlroy. His play was pitch-perfect and as the pressure ramped up, McIlroy continued hitting solid approach shots and making clutch up-and-downs. He needed only 23 putts in the final round on the Pete Dye design famous for the “War on the Shore” Ryder Cup in 1991.
After a summer where McIlroy struggled, not contending at any of the first three majors and missing several cuts, it was a bit of a surprise that he blitzed the field this week. To everyone that is, except his peers.
“At this stage, people could be saying I was right when I was saying he could challenge Jack,” said three-time major winner Padraig Harrington.
McIlroy has long been touted as the possible heir-apparent to Woods, but perhaps it is unfair to place the pressure of that comparison on McIlroy, who has his own legacy to create. It’s unknown whether McIlroy will go on to win seven of the next 11 majors as Woods did after picking up his second.
“I’d love to sit up here and tell you that I’m going to do the same thing [as Woods in the early 2000s], but I don’t know,” McIlroy said. “I am just going to keep practicing and working and hope that I get a few more of these in my closet.”
Whether or not McIlroy actually keeps his trophies in a closet is unknown, but one thing is for sure — whatever he keeps his trophies in will need to be a bit bigger after today.Alex Urban is a NGJ Voices Contributor and Public Relations Master's student at the University of Georgia. He graduated from Clemson University in 2011 and was the editor of Clemson's school paper's (The Tiger News) opinions section. He is interested in a wide range of topics from international relations to sports and pop culture.