Rory McIlroy’s wait for a fifth major title will go on, for another four weeks at least, but the PGA Championship leaves me wondering what should have been.
He looked dead and buried after a disastrous Saturday but when he birdied four in a row on the front nine on Sunday, the what ifs began to flow but they soon became shoulda, woulda, coulda. There’s just something missing mentally, whether it’s course management, a shift in mindset when he has a chance, a tightening up of some sort under the cosh.
It’s jarring and Rory’s reaction walking off the 18th last night showed that the opportunity he passed up after the position he put himself in on Thursday weighed on him.
Frustratingly it seems he is really close to breaking through again, but in golf, being so close can still leave you a distance away.
McIlroy is still a great player and I am not going to be overly critical, it was another top-10 after all. If he packed the sport in tomorrow he would still be the greatest we have produced.
What he said in a recent interview with BBC 5Live still sticks in my mind. Since his last major championship victory in 2014 he has won everything there is to win including a stint as world number one in 2020, which after all that has happened in the world seems a lifetime ago.
He is not in a slump and I believe he will contend in the US and Open Championships over the next few weeks but wow, I am wondering where the next major will come from. I have believed for a long time now that he needs to land one before he can win the Masters and complete the Grand Slam.
When your game is in great shape, you are leading after the first round, got the easy side of the draw and the final two groups haven’t won a PGA Tour event yet and you don’t really put yourself in the thick of it, when in the world is it going to happen?
The 2022 PGA Championship. The one that got away.
What happened on Sunday at Augusta seems more poignant now, but I still focus on the last few holes where Rory’s swing deserted him. Fast forward a month and the warning signs were there on Friday, but he still did very well to stay in the mix despite a one-over round.
A bizarre Saturday killed him and insult was added to injury considering the absence of some leading players from the upper echelons of the leaderboard.
World number one, Scottie Scheffler probably feels he could shank one straight and walk off with a birdie the way he has been playing but he, Patrick Cantlay and Dustin Johnson all missed the cut while Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Brooks Koepka, Viktor Hovland, Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama all shot themselves out of contention.
Only Justin Thomas stood out as the real star quality at the halfway stage and look where he ended up, without doing anything too special in truth before the playoff.
There was a lot of pre-tournament chat about Rory thrusting himself into the mix with a good start with hopes high after a sensational final round 64 at Augusta National. The Holywood native was quick to deflect away from his Thursday troubles which have plighted him in the past instead alluding to some catastrophic runs during rounds two and three. How right he was.
After his opening 65, I ran through all the scenarios in my head and I was fully acceptant of Rory chucking in a double-bogey but reeling off a few birdies. Take the handbrake off and see what happens.
McIlroy alluded to a devastating run of bogey, double-bogey on the tenth and eleventh holes of his second round at Augusta as detrimental to his hopes of donning the green jacket and a similarly killer stretch reared its ugly head on Saturday at Southern Hills. Four shots dropped in three holes before the turn proved critical in the end while an inexcusable triple-bogey on the eleventh was a punch in the teeth. Although in true Rory fashion he rallied!
The final round of the PGA Championship was an extremely slow burner and only really caught fire when Justin Thomas birdied 17 but it did briefly explode into life when McIlroy raced out of the traps with four birdies in a row to get to four-under-par.
I was buzzing, but also ready to get hurt again.
This is where it gets really frustrating given what unfolded. From the first look, it didn’t appear like a leaderboard that was going to race away into double digits and Rory wouldn’t have had to do anything special to get to six-under at least.
Two chip shots on six and seventeen proved fatal on Sunday and while he was unlucky with several birdie putts, his wedge play wasn’t leaving him with any gimmes by any stretch of the imagination.
In the end, Rory’s score after 18 holes was enough to make the playoff, he was six-under after 14 holes. This will hurt him and his fans and the fact he opted away from his post-round media duties speaks volumes. He knows.
What happened to Mito Pereira only rubs salt into the wounds, Rory McIlroy should have been in the playoff.
Rory finished second at last month’s Masters but the mood was one of optimism and confidence. On the face of it an eighth place finish shouldn’t sting so much but it does. It stings. A nasty papercut. Another missed opportunity.
My therapist will be hearing about Rory McIlroy this week!