This week’s PGA Championship marks six-years since Rory McIlroy captured a fourth Major Championship.
He will tee-up Thursday also in the very first Major Championship in golf’s history where no spectators are permitted.
The 102nd staging of the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco is the first Major since last year’s Open Championship as well as the first of three over the next four months.
September’s US Open has already been declared a ‘no spectator’ major and don’t be surprised if the green-jacket members at Augusta National may also be forced to stop patrons attending November’s rescheduling of the Masters.
And while McIlroy has already spoken since the return to competition on June 11th of the ‘personal’ impact of playing to no crowds, he’s now spoken in hopefully adding to his Major victory tally starting this week in San Francisco.
“It’s been a funny year… but I’ve three opportunities from now until November to add to my Major tally,” he told the Guardian.
“Because of all that’s happened this year, it’s made me focus a little more on just these weeks that are coming up..”
McIlroy has made no secret of the adjustment factor involved in playing to no crowds since lockdown but he hasn’t given up hope of the patrons lining the fairways of Augusta National come November.
“I think if anyone can make it work with spectators, it’s them,” he said. “Georgia is a state that’s maybe a little more open to having crowds, and on the ‘getting back to normal a little quicker’ side of things.
“But it’s up to Augusta National and the governor of Georgia. It’s not just about players when you bring fans back, it’s about keeping the community you’re playing in safe. If you can’t guarantee that you’ll do that, then it’s not worth it.”
Since the return to golf in June, McIlroy has contested five events with an uncharacteristic best finish of T11th at the Travelers.
His scoring average of the 20 rounds he’s played is 69.25 which doesn’t seem that poor but ahead of the lockdown in early March, McIlroy had played 24 rounds on the PGA Tour wraparound 2019/20 schedule with 18 of those rounds being sub-70 scores.
Since his return to competition just 11 of the 20 have been sub-70s.
Though there’s nothing like a Major Championship to get a golfer motivated and in heading to the PGA Championship it must help that McIlroy’s in possession of two Rodman Wanamaker replica trophies.
“I think if I hadn’t won a Major then it would be an irritation. Obviously, it is coming up to six years . . . it’s funny, 2014 Valhalla was actually playing on the Golf Channel the other night and looking back I was like: ‘Jeez, it doesn’t seem that long ago,’” he said also to the Guardian.
“It’s not as if I don’t know that I can do it. I’ve done it before. Maybe the challenges are a little different, maybe the people I have to go up against are different but being able to do it and doing it so emphatically with the first couple I won . . . it is in there.
“It’s not as if I don’t have the capability, especially coming off a season like the last one; PGA Tour player of the year, won four times, beat some of the best fields in golf. It’s not an irritation but of course you want to win the biggest events.”
And in arriving at Harding Park, McIlroy can also draw on the memories of his 2015 WGC – Cadillac Match-Play Championship.
“I remember getting to Harding Park that week, my game was feeling good, I’d won in Dubai and finished fourth at the Masters,” he recalled.
“I automatically liked the course, I thought it was fairer than the Olympic Club across the way and felt it was a better fit for me because you have room off the tee and can hit the driver a bit more.
“I remember a lot about that week, the matches I had. It’s nice going back to venues you’ve enjoyed and had success on, it gives you good energy. Some of the best players seem to have success on the same tracks; Tiger [Woods] has won half of his PGA Tour events on five courses. You are going to get places that just fit you better than others.”