Rory McIlroy says rare USPGA grass helps his game
Rory McIlroy believes he has an edge at the 94th US PGA Championship which tees off today that will put his game on a different planet. His secret weapon is the grass from Jupiter. That's not from outer space but from the Florida neighbourhood where McIlroy practises at Jack Nicklaus's Bears Club.
This is the first major to be played on paspalum grass, which Alan Titchmarsh will tell you is a tough little devil that can stand up to the salty, corrosive Atlantic sea air and survive the stifling heat in South Carolina.
Those who have never chipped and putted on it are in for a shock. It behaves like nothing they have ever seen. Paspalum is sticky and tough and wiry, and it grabs at the ball rather than letting it run like the grass at a British or Irish links. Even Tiger Woods admitted he has only experienced paspalum once, and that was in Thailand in the late 1990s.
"Hey, how d'ya like the grass?" is a question that hasn't been asked often in the States since the hippies tuned in and dropped out in San Francisco in the 1960s. McIlroy didn't quite go as far as to say, "Wow, man, it's far out and groovy," but the grass is much to his liking and he is primed to smoke it around this 7,676-yard monster.
Most players are struggling to spell the name of the grass, never mind chip on it, but not McIlroy. He spelt it out yesterday when challenged, then revealed it's not an alien surface to him. "We practise on paspalum at the Bears Club all the time," McIlroy said. "I love it. It's something we are quite used to." The "we" includes the world No 1 Luke Donald, Dustin Johnson and defending US PGA champion Keegan Bradley, who are all fellow members at Nicklaus's club.
"I was talking to Luke about it," McIlroy said. "That the guys who are members at the Bears Club might have an advantage because we are used to how it reacts. We practise on that stuff on our off-weeks. It's very spiny. When you hit wedges it bites a lot, really grabs the ball. So you can be aggressive."
And being aggressive is just how McIlroy likes it. The Ocean Course here is set up perfectly for his gung-ho style of play, the kind of play that battered the Congressional Course back in 2011 when McIlroy announced his major-winning credentials by winning the US Open in Maryland by eight shots.
McIlroy has the weather to thank. The thunderstorms that have crackled around the coast this week and the monsoon rains that have tipped down on to the course have made it soft and receptive and longer.
The infamous course was the venue for 1991's "War on the Shore". The US PGA has already been dubbed the "Pour on the Shore". "The longer, the better," McIlroy said. "If it's wet, I really don't mind at all." There's no "if". The Ocean Course is as saturated as a sponge at a car wash.
McIlroy won that US Open with his A-game, which has been missing at the majors for a while now. But he said he senses it is coming back. "There were a few goals I set at the start of the season, which I achieved – getting to No 1," he said. "The second half of the season has been more of a struggle."
McIlroy has delivered glimpses of his A-game at the Masters and the Open this year but has not been able to sustain it. "If I had to give my season a grade to this point, I'd probably give it a B," he said.
The Northern Irishman is the stellar name among the nine first-time major-winners who have pushed themselves forward in the last 16 majors. He is the player who was expected to win his second major quickly, as his lifestyle was transformed from Belfast boy to international rock star. But his second major has proved to be his difficult second album after his US Open debut went platinum.
"I'm disappointed I have not contended since," he said. "I haven't given myself even a chance. It would be great this week to get into contention and just feel that buzz again at a major and remember how it feels."
Just as long as that buzz doesn't come from one of the bugs the size of aircraft which are dive-bombing everyone here. "I'm getting eaten alive," McIlroy said.
Kiawah Island details (US unless stated, all times BST)
Starting at hole 1
6.10pm Hunter Mahan, Adam Scott (Aus), Sergio Garcia (Sp)
6.30pm Luke Donald (Eng), Brandt Snedeker, Zach Johnson
6.40pm Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington (Irl), Davis Love III
7pm Paul Lawrie (Sco), Justin Rose (Eng), Nick Watney
Starting at hole 10
1.20pm Paul Casey (Eng), Jason Dufner, Geoff Ogilvy (Aus)
1.10pm Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk
1.30pm Keegan Bradley, Martin Kaymer (Ger), Tiger Woods
1.40pm Ian Poulter (Eng), Louis Oosthuizen (SA), Steve Stricker
1.50pm Lee Westwood (Eng), Bill Haas, Angel Cabrera (Arg)
Tiger Woods 9-1
Rory McIlroy 18-1
Luke Donald 20-1
Dustin Johnson 22-1
Jason Dufner 25-1
Lee Westwood 25-1
Adam Scott 30-1
Bubba Watson 30-1
Justin Rose 33-1
Louis Oosthuizen 35-1
Matt Kuchar 35-1
TV Sky Sports 1, from 6pm
Weather Cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms. Max temp: 31C.