Rory McIlroy has not won a major for three years but he has all the credentials to win the USPGA Championship this week. Sacking your long term caddie doesn’t seem the best plan ahead of a major. McIlroy has his best man on the bag this week and that could go either way. When he ended his relationship with his partner in 2014 he won back-to-back majors so there is a precedent that this is a good strategy.
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Spieth will make history if he wins this week. He has won three of the four majors and needs a PGA Championship to complete the Career Grand Slam. Only five players have won all four majors at least once and Spieth would be the youngest member of that elite group if he prevails this week. However, he may not get away with wayward drives as he did in the Open at Birkdale. Spieth believes he will win all four majors but the final element will have to be put on hold for at least one year.
This year’s PGA Championship is being played at Quail Hollow in North Carolina. It is the usual home of the Wells Fargo Championship so there is plenty of course form to asses. McIlroy is a two-time winner on the track so has the best course form of the entire field. He has positive mental associations with Quail Hollow and clearly the layout is a good fit for his eye. The former world number one is the right favourite this week so he can get his major winning career back on track.
Quail Hollow is recognised as one of the best all-round tests on tour and deserves to stage a major. Disasters await at almost every hole and its rare for a player to record four rounds in less than 70 shots. Although it’s a relatively long course there is a premium on accuracy from the tees rather than distance. The last three holes are a difficult stretch and the champion will not be safe until they have been negotiated. The greens are tricky and undulating but McIlroy has mastered them in the past.
Golfers can be superstitious and creatures of habit. McIlroy has enjoyed great success on the course at Quail Hollow so will replicate his preparation and approach to the course. He has taken a back seat while Spieth and Dustin Johnson have found their form at the highest level. Hideki Matsuyama is now at number three in the world rankings and must be considered on a course suited to his game. He said his round of 61 to clinch the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last Saturday is the best he has played.
McIlroy knows he is good enough to win majors but something has not been right over the last three years. The last time he faced a crisis he ended his relationship with Caroline Wozniacki and this time JP Fitzgerald paid the price. He has been replaced on the bag by one of McIlroy’s best friends. He could be a relaxing influence or get in the way at the wrong time because he is not a pro caddie. The new man should lighten the mood and McIlroy can win the PGA despite and not because of him.
McIlroy had great success with Fitzgerald as his caddie. They won 22 titles together including four majors but the relationship had gone stale. The player will have more input in the decision making process and that could focus his mind. McIlroy must know his mate will make mistakes but it’s a state of mind and how he deals with the gaffes that will define his prospects this week. The new approach could just work in his favour and all will be good if McIlroy is a major champion again on Saturday.
The favourite identified this year’s PGA Championship as a big chance to add to his tally of majors. McIlroy has all the right attributes to contend and he has found some form leading up to the championship. He played well at the Open and Bridgestone Invitational without feeling the heat of being right there. Playing partners have said his game is in good shape and all the pieces are in place for McIlroy to win the 2017 USPGA Championship.
Back next Thursday.