Belfast Telegraph

Rory McIlroy is keen to beat rival Spieth to Grand Slam glory at Quail Hollow

 

By Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy believes he can avoid the first round Major nerves that derailed his chances of winning the US Open and The Open and finally challenge strongly for that elusive fifth Major in the US PGA at Quail Hollow.

The World No.4 was the overwhelming favourite at Erin Hills but crashed to six over par after eight holes and opened with a 78 en route to missing the cut.

The 28-year-old was playing for the first time in nearly six weeks in Wisconsin but after missing the cut in the Irish Open and the Scottish Open, he admitted that it was Major nerves and his desire to do well that caused him to slip to five over after six holes at Royal Birkdale.

While he eventually rallied to finish tied for fourth behind Jordan Spieth, the Co Down man arrived at Quail Hollow yesterday as the red-hot favourite to win here for the third time.

And he insisted that there will be no repeat of the first round nervousness and self-doubt that dashed his chances at Erin Hills and Royal Birkdale simply because the Charlotte track is right up his alley.

“It’s different,” McIlroy said last night of the feelings he gets at Quail Hollow, where he has won twice and recorded four more top-10 finishes in his seven appearances here.

“The difference is that I am comfortable in these surroundings. I am comfortable in this environment. I’ve played really well here before and I can see a good score here. These are sort of my conditions so we shall see.”

McIlroy flourishes on long, soft American courses and after being pelted by overnight rain, a revamped Quail Hollow set up well for him when he saw it for his first practice round yesterday.

The Holywood star played 18 holes in case his practice schedule is curtailed by bad weather forecast to hit the area over the next two days.

While it is not quite the same course where he shot a final round 62 en route to his maiden PGA Tour title in 2010, or the track where he shot 61 in the third round en route to victory in the Wells Fargo Championship two years ago, the Ulsterman was happy with what he saw.

“They have made the start a little more difficult for the first five holes,”he said. “Instead of thinking you should be two under par through the first five, you are thinking even par is good.

“But once you get past that start, the course opens up and gives you some chances and it is pretty similar from a layout standpoint to before.”

Open champion Spieth was quick to brand McIlroy the favourite after playing with him for the first two rounds of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron.

“I would say Rory’s probably the guy to beat next week,” Spieth said after finishing three shots behind McIlroy in a share of 13th on Sunday, 12 strokes behind Hideki Matsuyama.

“The way that he is driving the ball, if he continues to do it there, he just has a massive advantage over the field.”

McIlroy said: “The last two tournaments I have played, I have finished in the top five and got into the fringes of contention both times.

“Hopefully I continue to do that. If you go on course form, you’d think I have a pretty good chance. But Jordan is coming off the back of a win at The Open, a win at the Travelers.

Spieth needs the US PGA title to complete a career Grand Slam, while McIlroy needs The Masters.

“Jordan has a great chance at completing a career Grand Slam, which would be huge for the game,” McIlroy said. “But he can wait until 2018! It would be nice if both of us did it in 2018, but we’ll see how it goes.”

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