CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Jordan Spieth is going for a career Grand Slam at the PGA Championship and doesn’t appear to have a care in the world.
Rory McIlroy hasn’t won a major in three years and expectations are higher than ever.
Blame that on Quail Hollow.
This is where McIlroy won his first PGA Tour event in 2010 when he fearlessly fired a 4-iron into the breeze and over the water to 6 feet for an eagle that allowed him to make the cut on the number, and then he followed with a 66-62 weekend. Quail Hollow is where he shot 61 in the third round to run away from a strong field for a seven-shot victory. He has played here seven times and has finished out of the top 10 just once.
It’s not Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines.
But there’s a reason McIlroy has been looking forward to this PGA Championship. And it’s a big reason why he is the betting favorite by a slight margin over Spieth, who is just three weeks removed from winning the British Open.
The odds on McIlroy winning at Royal Birkdale were 20-1, some of the highest ever associated with him. He joked then that it was a good time to back him.
Now he’s listed at 7-1, and he doesn’t feel much differently.
“I told you those odds wouldn’t last long,” he said Tuesday. “I think it’s partly to do with the upturn in form that I’ve had over the last few weeks. And then my history on this golf course – a couple of wins, beaten in a playoff, a few other top 10s.
“Things are a bit different than they were a couple of weeks ago.”
McIlroy has posted seven straight rounds in the 60s going into the final major of the year, though he has not been in serious contention in either the British Open or the Bridgestone Invitational. A bad start held him back at Royal Birkdale – 5 over through the opening six holes – and he was slowed by not hitting his wedges close enough or making enough putts at Firestone.
His long game has been solid as ever, and that figures to be an advantage on a course already softened by rain on Tuesday and with storms in the forecast for the rest of the week.
McIlroy, like Spieth, also has three legs of the career Grand Slam. He is lacking only the Masters, and he hasn’t come particularly close in the three years he has gone to Augusta National with a chance to complete it. But there are differences.
McIlroy won the British Open at Hoylake in 2014 and then had to wait nearly nine month for the Masters. That was plenty of time to think about it, to answer to it.
“It plays on your mind a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s where Jordan doesn’t have to deal with that coming into this week. It’s great to be able to ride on the crest of a wave and just sort of keep it going.”
Spieth said that if every player was polled, all would agree that McIlroy will win a green jacket. He considered McIlroy’s age (28) and how many more opportunities he had in front of him. However, Spieth also spoke last month about how important it was to capture his first major at the Masters in 2015 when he was 21. He got it out of the way without allowing pressure to build as it did for Phil Mickelson, who won his first major at 34, or Sergio Garcia, who won the Masters this year at 37.
So why is this different?
After all, Tom Watson was 32 and Arnold Palmer was 31 when they first went to the PGA Championship with a chance to get the career slam.
“Yeah, but it’s totally different,” Spieth said. “Because winning a major versus winning a career Grand Slam … if you don’t win a major versus you don’t win a career Grand Slam, it’s two different things in my mind.”
McIlroy, meanwhile, isn’t the only player trying to make sure the year doesn’t end without him winning a major. Dustin Johnson looked good enough to win them all until he slipped down the stairs and wrenched his back on the eve of the Masters.
Johnson believes his game is close to where it was before the injury. What separates him from McIlroy is Quail Hollow. Johnson, who will stay at No. 1 regardless of what happens this week, has played Quail Hollow only three times, and not since 2011. He missed the cut twice and tied for 29th.
McIlroy almost feels like he can roll out of bed and play well at Quail Hollow.
He can only hope to join a short list of players who have won a major on the same course where they won a PGA Tour event – Woods (Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines, both times in the same year), Jack Nicklaus (Firestone), Ben Hogan (Riviera in the same year) and Walter Hagen (Olympia Fields).
“There’s certain golf courses that you can see yourself shoot a score on,” McIlroy said. “You don’t really have to have your best game and you still feel like you have a chance to win. And that’s sort of how it feels here.”
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