The Rory McIlroy (5/1) show rolls into Lexington, Kentucky, site of this week’s US PGA Championship. If the rules of inevitability have any relevance when it comes to championship golf, the birthplace of Mohammed Ali will also be the scene of the Northern Irishman’s fourth Major victory.
Certainly there are now few people in the world of professional golf willing to bet their credibility on any outcome other than a McIlroy victory at Valhalla come next Sunday afternoon. And who can blame them after his victory on Sunday at Firestone Country Club, where he effortlessly overtook Sergio Garcia (20/1), taking just three holes to turn the Spaniard’s three-shot overnight lead into a one-shot advantage. Thereafter, it was a case of how many?
The answer was two shots, a victory built on magnificent driving, stunning iron shots and deadly putting. Talk about irresistible. If, as seems inevitable, Tiger Woods announces injury will prevent him competing at Valhalla, where he won the PGA Championship back in 2000, beating Bob May in a play-off, the former world number one can at least console himself with the knowledge won’t be confronted with the task of beating the new world number one. That job now lies with the other 155 players in the field.
Good luck to them all. They will need it, not least because the Valhalla golf course is a beast of an 18-hole track that is not for the modestly talented. To win here, a player will need to hit it long off the tee, he will need to hit moon-shots with his irons and he will be required to hold plenty of putts. Remind you of anyone?
And a word to the wise on the weather. The forecast is for rain on Thursday and Friday, which means a soft course, so placing a premium on the need for extra length off the tee. The name McIlroy again springs to mind.
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Naturally, there will be no pre-tournament concession speeches from the likes Adam Scott (11/1), who ceded his world number one ranking to the Northern Irishman on Sunday. Nevertheless the Aussie had a decent week, holding down a top 10 finish that suggests he is running into some kind of form. Like McIlroy, the Aussie is a bomber off the tee. Unlike McIlroy, however, he does not currently appear right now to possess the ability to hole virtually every putt he looks at. That can change in the blink of an eye though, and if it does, then Scott will fancy his chances. And so should you.
The same goes for Phil Mickelson (25/1). The American lefty has had a rotten season by his own exalted standards but in his own mercurial way he always carries a whiff of ‘you never know’ about him.
After three days of mediocrity, he threw in a cheeky 62 at Firestone on Sunday. Where did that come from, you might ask, although a more pertinent question might be – can he do it again? Mickelson believes he can, citing his excellent performance at Valhalla in the 2008 Ryder Cup, when he anchored the USA team to a rare victory over Europe.
Mickelson is duty-bound to be optimistic about his own chances but in the search for someone who might beat the man of the moment the rest of us need more evidence than one flashy round on Sunday afternoon. What is needed is a greater body of evidence, proof over a sustained period that what we are dealing with, is a player who is genuinely capable of producing four good rounds in the fulcrum of a Major championship.
McIlroy has already proved he can do that with his victory at Royal Liverpool last month. He has earned the right to overwhelming favouritism this week but, equally, his friend and contemporary Rickie Fowler (25/1), who has finished second in the last two majors, at Pinehurst and the Open, not to mention fifth at Augusta National this year, has earned the right to think that his time has come.
Like McIlroy, he hits it long and, when dialed in, he hits it high and straight. He putts well and has confidence to burn. He believe he can win a major championship, that he can beat McIlroy. He may not do so – it is well-nigh impossible to look past the Northern Irishman this week – but expect him to come mightily close.