Kiawah 10 Years Later: A Record-Breaking Anniversary for Rory McIlroy
Ten years ago, Jim Nantz, lead golf commentator for CBS Sports, voiced the preamble to one of the most historic moments in PGA Championship lore.
Rory McIlroy, sitting with a 7-stroke lead on the back of the 18th green at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course in South Carolina, had one last birdie opportunity. Making the putt would add the then 23-year-old to the record books.
“This is for the all-time margin of victory in PGA Championship history,” Nantz said.
McIlroy poured his putt into the heart of the cup for a closing 66 and an 8-shot win, breaking Jack Nicklaus’s record from 1980. He fist pumped to punctuate the 24th putt of his final round, culminating in his first PGA Championship and Wanamaker Trophy, second major title, and return to the No. 1 spot in the world.
“To sit up here,” McIlroy said, “and see this trophy and call myself a multiple Major Champion, I know I've talked about it in the past, and not many people have done it, and yeah, I'm very privileged to join such an elite list of names.”
McIlroy began three back of Carl Pettersson and Tiger Woods lead Saturday. An opening round 67 put him in contention, and a Friday 75 that beat the field scoring average by three-strokes kept him in striking distance. He started making up ground immediately Saturday by opening with back-to-back birdies. Then he found himself in one of the most memorable moments of the championship on the par-4 third.
A dead tree caught McIlroy’s tee shot. He realized that it never came down following a thorough ground search. Instead, he found his ball lodged in the side of a branch. Naturally, he chose to take relief and a one-stroke penalty. He got up and down to save a memorable par. McIlroy went out in 32, his lowest side of the Championship. Then went into the Clubhouse due to a weather delay.
McIlroy didn't return to the course, with the end of play delayed to Sunday. The Northern Irishman had nine more holes pushed to Sunday. McIlroy shot one-under on the back for a third-round 67, his second 5-under card of the Championship to earn a three-shot lead. Sitting with a lead at a major hadn't treated him well in his recent memory. The challenging 2011 finish at the Masters, where he closed with an 80, served as a learning moment to help McIlroy close out the PGA Championship.
“[I] learned a lot from the Masters last year,” McIlroy explained after his third round, “and that's definitely something that I can think back to and draw on some of those memories and some of the feelings I had at Congressional, as well, just to go, right because you obviously know, you realize that you might not feel the same or your anxiety level is a little bit higher, and at least being in that position before, I'll know what to do again.
“I think Augusta last year will stand me in great stead this afternoon.”
McIlroy posted a bogey-free 66 to sprint away from the field for his eight-shot win. In how prophetic his quote was ahead of his final round, the eight-stroke margin of victory matched his 2011 U.S. Open win at Congressional.
“There's quite a bit of relief to get the second one out of the way,” McIlroy said, “But you know, just so happy that I was able to play like this and win another major.”
The now 33-year-old continues to add to his career ledger. McIlroy’s won 23 times on the PGA Tour since his Kiawah Island romp. He’s one of 29 players to win four or more majors in the tour's history. In addition, McIlroy's one of 20 to win multiple PGA Championships, also winning at Valhalla in 2014. He continues to contend at majors, as the Irishman had the lowest aggregate score in all four majors this season at (-29).
The PGA Championship returning to Kiawah Island in 2021 allowed McIlroy to reflect on how much he's evolved since his 2012 win. His answer focused on his self-growth, a mirror of what helped drive him to victory nine years prior.
“I think a lot has changed for the better,” McIlroy reflected, “I'm standing up here probably more confident in myself, happier with where I am in my life, and yeah, just sort of enjoying everything, enjoying life, enjoying everything a bit more.
Yeah, it's all good.”