Rory McIlroy was on top of the world when he defeated Gary Woodland to win the 2015 WGC-Cadillac Match Play at Harding Park in 2015.
This week he returns to the same venue for the PGA Championship having not won a Major since 2014 and struggling for form since June’s resumption of the PGA Tour.
For all that, the now world number 3 believes his A-game is nearing ever-closer, despite a best of tied-11th result out at the Travelers from five post-lockdown starts.
“Yeah, I think coming back from sort of post-COVID, there’s been good scores in there,” he said ahead of today’s opening round.
“I shot a 63 at Colonial; I shot a 65 to make the cut at Hilton Head; a 63 at Travelers, a couple of good scores last week in Memphis. So the good stuff is in there.
“I was just saying earlier, it’s just the sharpness and being efficient with my scoring. Turning the 73s that I’ve shot into 70s. That’s the sort of stuff that I think when you’re sharp and you’re playing a bit and you’re sort of in your groove you’re able to do that a little better, and that’s the stuff that I haven’t been able to do since coming back out here.
“So it’s just the scoring aspect of the game. I feel like everything else is pretty good. I’m driving it well. My iron play is good for the most part. It’s just getting that key up-and-down to keep momentum going, holing a putt here or there to keep the round going for the day. Just all that stuff that when you’re feeling it and when you’re in a good spot, that’s when you start to do those things and momentum comes from there.
“I feel like my game is really close. Even the mediocre scores that I’ve shot, I’ve come off the golf course thinking, well, I actually didn’t play too badly, I just didn’t get a lot out of the round. If I can just keep playing like that and keep being a little bit more efficient with my scoring, I’ll be right where I need to be.”
Winning course form that conjures fond memories is a pretty good place to start before ever a ball is hit but how much can McIlroy realistically glean from his Match Play win some five years ago?
“Yeah, the course is obviously a little different than it was in the Match Play five years ago,” he added. “The layout and the routing of the course is different. But also they’ve added some length. There’s a few holes that definitely play a lot longer.
“I think the fairways are narrower. They’ve cut them in a little bit, a couple of different looks.
“So it is, it’s different but I’ve always liked how PGA Championship setups have been for me. I think they’re fair. It’s not as if — you look down a fairway at a PGA Championship and it’s sort of the same width the whole way down to the green. A lot of courses, they try to pinch it in at 320 and try to handcuff the longer hitters, whereas here the courses just let you play, which I like.
“I think Kerry Haigh and his team do a great job. I think Kerry is one of the best in the business at setting courses up. I’ve always said that.
“Like I said, it’s a little different than the Match Play five years ago. I think it’s a great setup, and everyone is in for a good week.”
IRISH TEE TIMES – PGA CHAMPIONSHIP (Irish time)
4.11pm – Shane Lowry
4.33pm – Rory McIlroy
9.25pm – Graeme McDowell