Sport Golf

Saturday 21 April 2018

'It's realistic for me to win a Major every year until I'm 40' - Confident Rory McIlroy sets the bar high

Rory McIlroy confident Baltusrol set-up plays to his strengths as he bids to reclaim US PGA crown

Rory McIlroy reacts during a practice round ahead of the start of the US PGA championship tomorrow (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy reacts during a practice round ahead of the start of the US PGA championship tomorrow (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Rory McIlroy aims to put a stop to the trend of first-time Major champions taking the top titles this year.

It's not quite a Father Ted situation where he stands outside the locker-room with a poster saying 'Down with this sort of thing' but if McIlroy finds his 'A' game, he can certainly mount a serious threat in the US PGA Championship at Baltusrol.

The four-time Major winner has applauded the breakthroughs by Danny Willett in the Masters, Dustin Johnson at the US Open and Henrik Stenson in the Open Championship, but from his perspective, enough is enough.

McIlroy believes it is time to dig deep and assert himself once more in a bid to add to his tally of top titles.

The Race to Dubai champion and world No 4 is only 27, but the clock is ticking, and he can't wait get to get back to the top table two years after he won the Open at Hoylake.

Tomorrow McIlroy tees off in the US PGA for the eighth time. He has won the Wanamaker Trophy twice and would love to cradle it in his arms for the third time on Sunday.

Henrik Stenson has benefited from the coaching prowess of Pete Cowan. Picture Credit: REUTERS

The Belfast native does not begrudge Willett, Johnson and Stenson their moments of glory. He does, however, live for Major victories and is not afraid to make his views known.

"Yeah, I'd love to sit here and say I'm going to win a Major every year for the next number of years. I could retire at 40 and be very happy," he said.

"I think it is realistic, yeah, I really do. If you can win one of the four every year. . . if you're that good, you can do that. I think it is realistic. I think that is achievable. We've seen in the past that is achievable.

"That's the benchmark. That's what you're trying to get to. It's hard.

"It's so deep (the field), but I guess 2011, '12, '13, '14, in that stretch of four years, I averaged a Major a year, so there's no reason to think that I can't do that for the foreseeable future.

"Obviously that's what my benchmark is, and I feel like I can attain that. I have to play my best golf, and sometimes it's hard to come up with your best golf each and every week. But I definitely think it's attainable."

If he needed any extra motivation to pull out all the stops for Baltusrol, it came in the form of the epic Stenson v Phil Mickelson final-day duel for the Claret Jug at Troon.

McIlroy's tied-fifth finish paled by comparison in his own eyes, although he accepted he could not influence the outcome after his 69, 71 in the first two rounds.

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"Any time you walk away from a big tournament and you haven't lifted a trophy, it's going to motivate you, especially when you see the guys winning," he said.

"How can you not be motivated by watching that golf on the Sunday of the Open Championship with Phil and Henrik just going blow for blow down the stretch? That can only give you motivation and get the juices flowing.

"So yeah, of course, you see guys, and sometimes you think 'that should be me', and it gives you a bit of a kick in the ass to get out there and go practise."

McIlroy took some time out after Troon, and played a round at Quail Hollow last weekend, taking advantage of his presence in Charlotte, North Carolina, for a friend's wedding to get some pre-US PGA practice.

He then travelled to Baltusrol and is happy that the set up of the course fits his eye and his game.

"It's a fair golf course," he acknowledged. "This week especially, I feel like everything is straight out in front of you.

"There's no real hidden secrets to it, and I feel that's what really lets me excel. I feel like I can play my game in PGA Championship.

"I can hit the driver off the tee most of the time, and from there, if I drive it well, I feel like I have a big advantage.

"It's always been a tournament that's set up well for me. I've had some good finishes - obviously the wins in 2012 and 2014, but I've had a couple of top-threes, and a couple of top-10s, apart from that, as well.

"So it's been a good tournament for me."

Driving is a key asset in McIlroy's armoury, and he thrilled the galleries around the first tee when he posted a 345-yarder in the Long Drive competition on the par-four, measuring 478 yards.

The winner gets a gold money clip and $25,000 to donate to his favourite charity.

McIlroy's effort stood ahead of the rest until it was overtaken by Byeong Hung An, who moved the top mark to 347 yards.

"I think it's a great concept," he said. "The PGA of America have had this long drive competition for a long time. I know Jack Nicklaus still carries his money clip from 1963 or whenever it was he won it.

"I hit one out there pretty good this morning. Not going to lie to you, I've been checking the board since to see if anyone's got up close to me.

"I saw Gary Woodland on the putting green just as he was going out, and I said, 'that's one of the guys I'm worried about.'

"But it's a cool concept. It's a lot of fun and I think the guys enjoy it."

"The guys" as he described them, not only enjoy the Long Drive competition, but an increasing number of them are winning on both sides of the Atlantic.

McIlroy appreciates the depth of the opposition here this week, but said: "I feel like it's hard to separate yourself from the pack a little bit.

"But that's what we're trying to do, trying to be the best that we can, and hopefully that, in turn, is the best in the world."

Irish Independent

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