PGA Championship - Preview Day 2
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Rory went 7-0 in matches en route to a 2015 WGC-Cadillac Match Play victory at TPC Harding Park.

The great ones are measured on major championship stages.

When Rory McIlroy won the PGA Championship at Valhalla in 2014, he was thrust into that rarified air, joining Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players in the modern era to win four majors as a professional by the age of 25.

“I'm on a nice track at the minute,” McIlroy said after hoisting the trophy at Valhalla. “I'm on a nice path. I've still got a long way to go, but to be in their company at this age is very special.”

That was six years ago, and he’s still waiting to add to his major championship total.

McIlroy is 31 now, still undeniably a man in full, with nine of his 18 PGA Tour titles coming since that victory at Valhalla, with four of them coming last year and with 66 weeks at world No. 1 added to his resume since the ’14 PGA Championship.

In major championships, though, the Northern Irishman hasn’t been able to build on his rank among the greats. He hasn’t been able to summon his best on the game’s grandest stages the way he has in other elite events, like The Players (2019) and the Tour Championship (2016 and 2019).

McIlroy has watched Brooks Koepka win four majors since he won at Valhalla and Jordan Spieth win three.

That’s what makes McIlroy’s arrival at TPC Harding Park so potentially medicinal.

The course may be good for what’s been ailing McIlroy in the majors and in his return to play amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. After starting the 2019-20 season with six consecutive top-five finishes, including a victory, he hasn’t been so good in the PGA Tour’s restart. He doesn’t have a top 10 among his five starts amid the pandemic.

But there are so many good memories for McIlroy to mine at TPC Harding Park.

He packed a lot of winning into his last visit to this golf course, triumphing in all seven of his matches while taking the WGC-Cadillac Match Play title in 2015.

When McIlroy won that week, he talked about feeling at home, with the cool, damp San Francisco weather reminding him of his Northern Irish home. There was also something instantly inviting about TPC Harding Park.

“As soon as I played the course, I liked it,” he said.

That hasn’t changed this week, even with a different setup. McIlroy says he appreciates the way PGA Chief Championships Officer Kerry Haigh sets up courses. Two of McIlroy’s four majors have come in PGA Championships. He also won at Kiawah Island in 2012.

“I've always liked how PGA Championship setups have been for me,” McIlroy said. “I think they're fair. You look down a fairway at a PGA Championship, and it's sort of the same width the whole way down to the green. A lot of courses, they try to pinch it in at 320, and try to handcuff the longer hitters, whereas here the courses just let you play, which I like.

“I think Kerry Haigh and his team do a great job. I think Kerry is one of the best in the business at setting courses up. I've always said that.”

McIlroy is 0 for his last 19 tries at winning in majors.

Yes, there have been longer dry spells between major championship victories among the game’s greats. Ernie Els went 36 major championship starts between wins when he claimed the last of his four majors, at The Open in 2012. Lee Trevino once went 33 major championship starts between wins. Woods ended a run of 28 winless majors claiming the Masters last year.

The longer McIlroy’s dry spell goes, the more he will be reminded of it when he arrives to play in a major.

Does that bother him?

“It doesn't keep me up at night, and I don't think about it every day, but when I play these major championships, it's something that I'm obviously reminded of,” McIlroy said. “Yeah, look, I would have liked to have won a couple more majors in that time frame, and I feel like I've had a couple of decent chances to do so, and I just haven't got the job done.

“But the good thing is we have at least three opportunities this year, and then, hopefully, if things normalize going forward, four opportunities. So, we're playing seven major championships in the next 12 months, basically. I've got plenty of opportunities coming my way.”

McIlroy’s best chance since Valhalla came at the Masters two years ago, where he entered the final round three behind Patrick Reed, in the final pairing with Reed. McIlroy was seeking to claim the career Grand Slam there but closed with a 74 and finished T-5, six shots behind Reed.

At The Open in 2018, McIlroy was four shots back starting the final round, but that’s the year Francesco Molinari, a shot ahead of McIlroy beginning Sunday, charged so brilliantly, closing with a 66 to win. McIlroy ended up T-6. 

McIlroy had another chance to win the Masters after a fast start there in 2016. Through 36 holes, he was second, one shot behind Jordan Spieth, but a 77 on Saturday left McIlroy with little chance on Sunday. He ended up tying for 10th

“Yeah, I think everyone that stands up here wishes they would have won more and would have played better and all that stuff,” McIlroy said. “I've given myself chances. I just haven't been able to capitalize on them.”

With TPC Harding Park providing so many comfortable memories, McIlroy is hopeful this is the week he capitalizes on a major chance.

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