McIlroy bids to give his season a shot in the arm
Rory McIlroy is looking to end the major season on a high by capturing the USPGA title in South Carolina this weekend.
The final major of the season is called ‘Glory’s Last Shot’ and it is also, of course, McIlroy’s last shot at putting a gloss on his year by adding the title to his runaway US Open victory 14 months ago.
The world No 3, for whom a top-two finish could see him dethrone Luke Donald at the top of the rankings again, started 2012 in brilliant form.
But at The Masters he was only 40th, he made an early exit from the US Open during a miserable run of four missed cuts in five starts and, after a promising first day, he fell away to 60th in The Open at Royal Lytham.
“There were a few goals I set myself at the start of the year, which I achieved – getting to number one in the world and winning a tournament early,” the 23-year-old Northern Irishman said yesterday at stormy Kiawah Island.
“The second half has still been pretty good, but a little bit more of a struggle. If I had to give my season a grade to this point I’d probably give it a B, but there’s still a lot of golf left to play.”
After this week he goes into the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup play-offs, then comes the Ryder Cup in Chicago – a match now very much in his focus after European captain Jose Maria Olazabal brought the ten players currently in position to qualify together for a meeting on Tuesday.
McIlroy’s approach to tournaments is changing somewhat. He no longer considers hour after hour on the driving range good for him. “I need to get out there and play, see shots on the course,” he said. “I think certain players feel like they need to be on the range for two or three hours a day and really work on drills.
“I feel I practice much better on the course when I can see different shots and work off different targets – and just play.
“I’ll still go and practice on the range and work on things that I have to, but once I feel comfortable that I’ve done that I want to go on the course and make sure it’s good out there.”
A fifth-place finish at last week’s world championship was clearly a massive improvement on The Open and he likes what he sees at Pete Dye’s Ocean Course, scene not only of two World Cups, but also the 1991 ‘War on the Shore’ Ryder Cup.
The last 16 majors have had 16 different winners, but McIlroy looks as likely as anyone to stop that sequence continuing.
Justin Rose, joint fifth with McIlroy on Sunday, would love to see it go to 17 with him winning his first major, of course, and it is more familiar surroundings for him than most of the field – he finished second with Paul Casey behind South Africans Trevor Immelman and Rory Sabbatini in the 2003 World Cup.
Casey is also in this week’s field, but now down at 93rd in the world after making just one halfway cut since he dislocated his shoulder snowboarding last Christmas.
Tiger Woods is here as well, of course. The American former world No 1 has come a long way since this time last year – but not far enough, as far as he is concerned.
When Woods missed the cut by six shots at the USPGA Championship last August he looked a million miles away from the player who had won 14 majors.
He remains four behind Jack Nicklaus’ record, but after finishes of 40th in the Masters, 21st in the US Open and third in the Open – plus three other tournament wins – things are certainly looking up again.
“I’m pleased at the way I was able to play at certain times and obviously disappointed that I did not win,” said Woods. “I’ve played in three major championships this year and I didn’t win any of them. That’s the goal.
“I was there at the US Open after two days [he was joint leader] and I was right there with a chance at the British Open.
“Things have progressed, but not winning a major championship doesn’t feel very good.”
Not that the 36-year-old is fretting over a pursuit of Nicklaus that has stalled for four turbulent years in his life.
“I figure it’s going to take a career – a long time,” he said. “Jack didn’t finish his until he was 46, so if you go by that timetable I’ve got ten more years.
“Four more majors is a lot, but I’ve got plenty of time.”
Tom Watson nearly won the 2009 Open just short of his 60th birthday and the year before that Greg Norman was third at Birkdale aged 53.
“We can play late in our careers just because of our training and also just getting the right golf course,” he added.
Woods now finds himself on the longest course in major history – 7,676 yards if played from every back tee. He also finds himself in the strongest field ever assembled for any event.
Barring any late withdrawals, it will be the first time since the rankings were launched in 1986 that the world’s top 100 are all in the same place.
The last 16 majors have had 16 different winners. This season has seen Bubba Watson capture the Masters, Webb Simpson the US Open and then last month Ernie Els his second Open.
It could easily become 17 - Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Woods are not on the list and nor, of course, is Adam Scott after he threw things away with four closing bogeys at Royal Lytham.
There are only two Scots in the field this week – Paul Lawrie and Martin Laird. Lawrie plays the first two rounds with Rose and American Nick Watney, while Laird is in a threesome with Americans Pat Perez and Corey Prugh.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west