PGA Championship - Final Round
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Ten years ago, Rory McIlroy was the man to beat entering the PGA Championship at Valhalla. No one did.

Then just 25 years old, Rory McIlroy entered the final major championship of 2014, at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, as the world No. 1. He’d regained the top stop just that week after consecutive wins at the Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Four rounds later, he backed up his world ranking by doing Tiger Woods-type things: winning consecutive majors, playing virtually mistake-free all week and beating Phil Mickelson in the process.

The Northern Irishman shot rounds of 66-67-67-68 to finish at 16-under 268, one clear of Mickelson and two ahead of Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson, claiming his fourth major championship and cementing his spot as golf’s next big thing. With the 2014 PGA, he became just the fourth player in the past century to win four majors at age 25 or younger, joining Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Jones. How’s that for company?

With an effervescent bounce in his step and enough confidence to fill the Wanamaker Trophy 10 times over, McIlroy made the difficult seem simple that week in Kentucky. You’ve got to remember, this was back when Fowler wasn’t a redemption story (he actually finished top five in all four of that year’s majors, including two T-2s), when Mickelson was a year removed from winning his fifth major championship and when Stenson was a force to be reckoned with rather than an afterthought in LIV Golf.

He beat them all, but it was far from a walk in the park.

Lee Westwood stormed out the gate like a thoroughbred at nearby Churchill Downs with nine birdies and signed for a round of 6-under 65 to sit atop the leaderboard after round one alongside Kevin Chappell and Ryan Palmer. McIlroy rebounded from an early double bogey when he made four straight birdies on the back nine to sit one shot back at 5 under.

Come Friday, McIlroy was the man out front after a 4-under 67, taking the 36-hole lead by one over Jason Day and Jim Furyk. Mickelson went two shots better than his Thursday effort with a 4-under 67 of his own to sit three shots back at 6-under, T-7 alongside Bernd Wiesberger.

A ho-hum Moving Day saw a stagnant McIlroy catch fire on the back nine once again with birdies on three of his last four holes to shoot 67 for the second consecutive day and keep his one-shot advantage, this time at 13 under over Wiesberger, who shot the low round of the day, a 6-under 65 to sit solo second at 12 under. Fowler (69-66-67) was third at 11 under while Mickelson also fired a second consecutive 67 on Saturday to remain three back , T-4 alongside Day at 10 under.

PGA Championship - Round Three

The leaderboard was so close in the third round that five players were tied for the lead at 10 under at one point on the back nine Saturday afternoon, and the 69.6 scoring average set the lowest mark in PGA Championship history at the time. But an exciting third round wouldn’t hold a candle to the drama that would come on Sunday, though one was nearly needed.

McIlroy’s time at the top came to an early end when he lost his one-shot advantage thanks to two bogeys over his first six holes on Sunday. Fowler and Mickelson each made four birdies on the front nine and Stenson made five birdies of his own as the trio passed McIlroy on the leaderboard. Before he knew it, McIlroy was three down before the turn.

It was lucky, it really was. You need a little bit of luck in major championships to win and that was my lucky break.
Rory McIlroy

“I was paying attention to what was going on,” McIlroy said at the time. “I didn’t want them getting too far ahead of me.”

From the fairway, he watched Fowler make a 30-foot birdie putt in the group ahead to take the outright lead on the 10th hole. McIlroy quickly flew back into contention with an eagle on the par 5 set up by a stellar 3-wood.

“The eagle on 10 was massive,” explained McIlroy. “I started the round very tentatively. I just didn’t really have it. Sort of just trying to get through the first few holes making pars while everyone else was attacking, so that wasn’t good. But the eagle on 10 just changed everything.

“I hit 3-wood from I think it was 284 (yards) total. The ball flight was probably around 30 feet lower than I intended. And the line of the shot was probably around 15 yards left of where I intended,” he said of the shot. “It was lucky, it really was. You need a little bit of luck in major championships to win and that was my lucky break.”

Bogeys from Fowler and Stenson on the 14th and one from Mickelson two holes later —his lone blemish in the final round—opened the door for McIlroy, who burst through with birdies at Nos. 13 and 17. That meant Mickelson and Fowler needed an eagle to tie the championship on the par-5 18th. Mickelson’s chip from off the green nearly fell while Fowler’s putt from distance never had a shot.

”I thought I had a good chance. It was right in line and then it just broke off at the end,” said Mickelson of his close call. “Gave it a good chance, but that’s not the opportunity on 18 that I’m looking for. I don’t like being two back having to hole a shot. I need to be close. That bogey on 16 hurt.”

McIlroy made it interesting by finding the greenside bunker with his approach to the final green but got out and two-putted for a one-shot win in near complete darkness after a two-hour rain delay early in the afternoon.

Playing the final hole in limited light, McIlroy suggested the final two groups play as a foursome so they could finish. Instead, he and Wiesberger were allowed to hit their tee shots before Mickelson and Fowler had reached their drives in the group ahead. The PGA of America then let McIlroy and Wiesberger hit their second shots into the green while Mickelson and Fowler had to stand off to the side.

“We were cool with hitting the tee shot,” said Fowler of the PGA’s decision while noting it was tough to see the read on his putt. “We weren’t expecting the approach shots.”

“It didn’t affect the outcome of the championship at all, I don’t think,” Mickelson said despite being visibly upset off the green after a lengthy talk with a Rules official. “It’s not what we normally do. It’s not a big deal either way.”

“It was a classy move for those guys to let us come up because they didn’t need to. They could have let us just stand there and wait in darkness and make it a little bit more difficult,” said McIlroy. “True sportsmanship. They called us up and it was a classy move.”

Valhalla, I think it always seems to provide a very exciting finish in these championships.
Rory McIlroy

The 2014 PGA was the closest call of McIlroy’s four major wins at the time, which made it the most satisfying to date. Not only did he prove he can hang with the game’s best on a consistent basis, it put him on track to be the game’s biggest star since Tiger, and the comparisons immediately followed after he became the first player since Woods to win three straight starts on Tour.

Said Mickelson, “He’s better than everyone else right now,” with Fowler adding that McIlroy was the “best player in the world, hands down.”

“He’s on a roll. He is the best player in the world and just playing phenomenal golf,” added Stenson. “It’s always hard to compare players. If he’s not the same [as Woods], he’s not far behind. He’s got every opportunity to move on from here on.”

McIlroy tried to put the comparisons behind him, but he appreciated the company he was joining and embraced the hype.

“I think you have to expect it, you have to accept that to have a run of golf like I’ve had, it’s expected,” he explained after his win. “You have to welcome it and I don’t think you can see it as a burden. It’s a great place to be in. To be the face of golf or one of the faces of golf, it’s a big responsibility, but at the same time, I feel like I’m up to the task of handling it well.”

PGA Championship - Final Round

He still is. While his major success over the past decade hasn’t been nearly the same, he’s dominated on both the PGA Tour and DP World Tour with 20 wins, not to mention four Race to

Dubai titles and three FedEx Cup trophies in that time.

Currently the No. 2 player in the world, McIlroy’s thoughts about Valhalla are still valid as the PGA Championship returns there for the fourth time.

“Valhalla, I think it always seems to provide a very exciting finish in these championships,” he said back in 2014. “I watched the 2000 PGA here when Tiger won against Bob May, and I was sitting at home watching [the 2008] Ryder Cup, as well. It seems like it always provides a great finish.

“I had a great time here and hopefully I’m going to come back one day and come back to Valhalla and try and win this thing again.”

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