Date: August 11, 2014
Author: Mike Clayton /

McIlroy unchallenged at game’s summit

as something of a shambles at the end of the PGA with the final two groups joining up in the fashion of a weekend game at the club to finish before the darkness made it impossible to play anything serious. Either way it was another confirmation of the awesome talent of Rory McIlroy.

He had lost his lead on the front nine early on to Phil Mickelson and at one point Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson, were all ahead of the Open Champion. The trio of challengers had opened brilliantly and Rory made an early three putt and then another bogey at the 6th.

There was no wind and playing to the greens was something akin to hitting into a bucket of wet washing. You couldn’t imagine golf so diametrically opposed to what we saw at both Pinehurst and Hoylake where the bounce and run of the ball was a critical factor. One form of the game is infinitely more interesting than the other but at Valhalla we saw a championship undecided until the final act.

McIlroy had pull-hooked a three wood over the fence in the first round from the middle of the 10th fairway but this Sunday and from 280 yards he hit a low cut with the same club which ran up the slope on the left to within eight feet of the cup. With one shot, one he admitted was ’30 feet lower and 15 feet more left’ than he intended, McIlroy’s changed the championship and the resulting eagle bought him back in touch with those playing ahead. From there to the end he barely missed a shot and it was the others who missed greens and fairways at critical times.

Fowler flew a wild iron far right of the 14th green and at the 16th blew a drive far to the right and onto the opposite fairway. Mickelson missed the fairway and the green at the 16th making a bogey as critical as Fowler’s had been at the par three. He did save an incredible par from the rough far off the 17th green and then almost holed a pitch at the last but it was too little and too late.

McIlroy had driven right and into a fairway bunker at the 17th but by no means could the bunker be described as a hazard. The lip was far ahead of him and of no consequence and the sand so firm he may as well have been on the fairway. He pulled his short iron approach up just inside ten feet and made the putt for what was the deciding birdie. The only concern he had then was finishing up before dark and saving the spectators, the press writers and the television the horror of a single hole finish on Monday.

Forty years ago it was something of a shock if a ‘foreigner’ won one of golf’s four big events but it changed with the emergence of the Ballesteros generation, which included Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Nick Price, Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer and Jose-Maria Olazabal.

Now McIlroy stands almost unchallenged at the head of the game and it has seemingly happened so quickly. Mickelson and Ernie Els, who slipped in a cameo 65 on Sunday, are aging stars and who knows where the game of Tiger Woods is headed. Everyone seems to have an opinion but only Tiger really knows what’s going on. For him though the season is over and getting ready for Augusta the priority as it would be beyond imagination for Tom Watson to pick him to play in the Ryder Cup.

The real American discovery this summer was Rickie Fowler who finished 5th, 2nd, 2nd and 3rd respectively in the majors. Fiddling with an idiosyncratic swing can be dangerous but he looks to have managed it well and his play presumes there will be more interesting Sunday’s with McIlroy. Jason Day too in is the conversation of fine players in their mid-twenties but this week, whilst hitting more greens than anybody else, he putted like Adam Scott on a bad week. He isn’t a bad putter but McIlroy has more than made his share the past few weeks. No matter how well you hit you have to make the putts and like Tiger of a decade ago Rory is holing putts, managing the pressure and playing at a level unmatched by his contemporaries.