Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Rory McIlroy's thrilling form has Europe's Ryder rivals on back foot

Moment of glory: Rory McIlroy embraces caddie JP Fitzgerald after sinking the putt to clinch his fourth Major at Valhalla
Moment of glory: Rory McIlroy embraces caddie JP Fitzgerald after sinking the putt to clinch his fourth Major at Valhalla

Rory McIlroy has got the Americans running scared. The US Ryder Cup captain, Tom Watson, said it all: "I wish he was on my team." The deference, respect and indeed fear engendered by the name Rory McIlroy is a thing to behold. It is not just that he wins, but how he wins that is reshaping golf's parameters.

The PGA Championship victory at Valhalla was his second Major triumph in a month, and the most dramatic of the four he has tabled at the age of 25. Snaps of him holding the Wanamaker Trophy and the Claret Jug in the Valhalla club house captured the dawn of the post Tiger era.

As Watson observed, McIlroy knows it, and so do his rivals. With nine holes to play McIlroy was in new territory, three shots adrift. His three previous Major wins came on the back of huge 54-hole leads.

Here he needed to reel in three players going away from the field, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson, and he did with a shot to spare.

McIlroy said: "Satisfaction and joy are the two biggest things. Satisfaction I was able to win and the manner in which I won, and joy that I have kept this run going.

"I said at the Open that I wanted to keep moving forward, I wanted to win more. I was able to back that victory up with a win at the Bridgestone and I came here to Valhalla and did it all over again.

"To win the way that I did, I know I can do it now. I was standing on the 10th fairway three behind and to know I can come back from that and shoot 32 on the back nine of a Major and win is something that will stand with me for the rest of my career."

Asked if he considered not finishing his round on Sunday night as he was playing the 18th hole in near darkness following an earlier rain delay, McIlroy added: "No, I wanted to win this thing and get out of here! It was very tough with the bunker shot and the depth perception so I decided to just chunk it out there, take my two putts and run."

The man with the best view in the house, his caddie JP Fitzgerald, universally known as JP, was left as awestruck as the rest of us. "Seeing the guys 15 under was what kick-started him. If you don't respond you're beaten.

"He's always handled himself well even when he was 19 but I guess he's got better when things aren't going his way. He's a big star now. The 3-wood on the 10 was a favourite shot, and when the putt went in at 17 that was it."

Fitzgerald agrees with his boss about the calibre of result. "That was his best win. Every win is special but when you are three behind with three guys in front of you and nine holes to go you really have to step it up. He was five under for the last 12. He managed to pull it off again."

The aura of invincibility is already penetrating the field. Colin Montgomerie, who made the cut at Valhalla after qualifying via his senior PGA triumph, echoed the famous eulogy he once made to Woods.

He said: "Rory is in that state right now. We all know that.

"He's playing a different course, not just to me but to everybody else out there. He is the best player in the world. I said that before he won Bridgestone, if he plays his best here he will win. You don't need to look at the scoreboard."

For Mickelson it was yet another second place at a Major.

After a closing 66 which sealed his place on the US Ryder Cup team, Mickelson added: "It was fun to get back back in the mix and feel the pressure. I just ran out of steam after 12 holes.

"I wasn't really firing on all cylinders but making some key putts and had a nice round going. After that birdie on 11 I thought if I could get one or two more I would be right there and it was a costly bogey on 16 in the end.

"I am disappointed in the outcome, if I could have finished the last five or six holes strongly it could have flipped the way I feel about the whole year."

Fowler, who came third, has now finished fifth, second, second and third in the year's four Majors but acknowledged that Sunday was the first real chance he had to win.

"This is the first one that hurts," Fowler said. "I played well to put myself in a good position and unfortunately just made a couple of bad swings on the back nine that put me in bad positions.

"The performances in the majors is something I can be proud of but Rory has been a deserving champion every time. We will see if we can get one away from him at some point."

Swede Stenson was left to rue a three-putt on the 14th but said: " It must have been a great championship to watch on television or out there on the course.

"I was part of it. I'm happy with that. I gave it my best effort. I was four shots back when we started and gave it a good go."

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