McIlroy is peaking at right time in bid to boost Major haul
Tiger Woods might have used the word 'trending' to describe his Ryder Cup form, but if there's a player who looks like they're ready to peak at this week's US PGA, it's Rory McIlroy.
The Holywood star (29) needs no reminding that it's been four years since he last won a Major.
But, while he's won eight tournaments and finished second another six times since then, he's got such high expectations of himself that he looks like a man who's underachieving.
Padraig Harrington hit the nail on the head at The Open when he said the four-time Major winner is perceived to be playing poorly because "his career is now solely based on how he does in Majors".
"There seems to be no other yardstick for Rory," Harrington said. "And that's probably the yardstick he uses himself."
The Co Down man will be a man on a mission at Bellerive Country Club after he tied for sixth in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday having gone out in the final group with high expectations of putting leader Justin Thomas under pressure.
His closing 73 took the gloss off an otherwise excellent week and, while it's tempting to wonder why he's now failed to win from the final pairing four times this year, the fact that he's contending can only be a positive.
Just ask European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn, who believes McIlroy receives more than his fair share of criticism despite winning more world ranking points this year than everyone bar World No.1 Dustin Johnson, Open champion Francesco Molinari and last Sunday's winner, Thomas.
"He's doing a lot of good things," Bjorn said. "I've watched it a lot and I obviously watched The Open and I feel people are highly critical of him.
"But he's there every single week. He's always there or thereabouts. He obviously wants to win more golf tournaments but we all want to do that. We'd all like to do things a bit better, but he's the best driver of the ball in the world and his putting is a lot better too. So we'll see."
Butch Harmon called McIlroy "robotic" at The Open and then suggested last week that he'd be wise to ask Jason Day, Johnson, or even Woods for advice on wedge play.
"Rory has so many wedges on a daily basis that as a fan it is so frustrating to watch him struggle from 90 yards to find the green," Harmon said.
McIlroy's mistakes with wedges are often glaring but, while ranked 173rd from 50-75 yards and 94th from 75-100 yards, he's also ranked third from 100-125 yards, 14th from 50-125 yards and fifth from 125-150 yards.
What's not lacking is desire, and he admitted that he admired Thomas' "nasty streak".
"I like JT's attitude over everything else," he said. "He's got a nasty streak in him, which I think you need. When he gets himself in the hunt, you can see a little twinkle in his eye.
"I think you need it. You have to have it. I think if you don't have it, second places and third places become too comfortable."
McIlroy feels more comfortable at the US PGA than at any other Major and, while it represents his last chance this year, he's certainly not in panic mode.
"I've always felt less pressure at the PGA because it's a golf tournament I've always felt comfortable at," he said. "I don't need to change my game. I can go with what I have and, if I do that well, I'm going to have a good chance."
This is the last counting event for the eight automatic spots in the US Ryder Cup team.
But the Ryder Cup is not on Shane Lowry's radar after he failed to take advantage of his chance to make a move in the FedEx Cup standings by finishing tied 15th in the Barracuda Championship in Reno on Sunday.
The Offaly man (31) moved up just three spots to 156th and now has just this week and next week's Wyndham Championship if he's to make the top 125 and keep his full PGA Tour playing credentials next year.
He's joined in St Louis by debutant Paul Dunne and Harrington, who rose three spots to 219th after finishing tied 50th in Reno and can rely on his status as one of the PGA Tour's top 50 career money winners to play next season, if he fails to win Major No.4 this week.