McIlroy wins amidst Valhalla drama
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2014 US PGA Championship | Wrap | 11 Aug 2014
In Norse mythology, Valhalla was the Great Hall of Odin, where the bravest warriors who had died in battle lived forever.
Perhaps it might be drawing a long bow to compare Rory McIlroy’s deeds with those of the warriors who laid down their life in those earlier battles but today, at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville in Kentucky, Rory McIlroy might well have earned a place in a similar rememberance hall for the manner in which he fought off his rivals after an early stumble on day four of the PGA Championship.
McIlroy went on to win by one shot over Phil Mickelson, 19 years his senior, with Henrik Stenson and Rickie Fowler another shot behind.
Jim Furyk and Ryan Palmer tied for 5th.
In the most unusual scenes, the final few holes were played in encroaching darkness, so much so that the final two groups were essentially forced to play the 72nd hole as a fourball, darkness and a rapidly approaching storm threatening to force the final major of the year into a fifth day.
Play was completed however with McIlroy safely parring the last a few minutes after Mickelson had so nearly forced the issue with a near hole out for eagle from off the green at the par five 18th.
In victory, McIlroy won his 4th major championship, his second PGA Championship and his second major of 2014 and edged towards the greats of the game.
McIlroy took a lead into the final day but was quickly under siege, some of it from his own doing but some also from the fast starts of Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson.
When the final group made the turn Mickelson, Fowler and Stenson were tied in the lead at 14 under two ahead of McIlroy but with 11 players within four shots it was very much a case of ‘the tournament beginning on the back nine on Sunday’.
It started for McIlory with the shot that to a large extent shaped the outcome of the tournament. A second with a fairway wood at the par five 10th bounced twenty yards short of the green and even in the very damp conditions worked its way up onto the green and to six feet from the hole.
McIlroy knew how important that show would be in his comeback from a slow start.
“On 10, it came out a little low and left on me," said the Champion after his round. “I got a nice bit of run on to the green and that was the turning point in the whole tournament for me. I struggled on the front nine, and then to get myself within one of the guys in front, Rickie and Phil, I felt like I had a really good chance then. I played the final stretch this week really well and I knew there was a few birdies out there for me.
When that putt was holed McIlroy was within one and although continually challenged over the final few holes, birdies at the 13th and 17th took him ahead.
Mickelson threw down the gauntlet to McIlroy until the very last throw of the dice when he so nearly pitched in from just short of the green at the last. His pitch from 30 yards ran past the edge at the perfect speed but he came up one short as McIlroy in near darkness was able to fashion a solid par to win by a shot.
McIlroy was grateful for the gesture of Mickelson and Fowler to allow the final group to play up at the last in order to get the event finished before play would be compulsorily halted.
“It was actually I suggested we just play off it before, but Bernd Wiesberger said why don’t we hit our drives and they go hit up their second shots. So at least we don’t finish together but saves a little bit of time.
“It was a classy move for those guys to do that. They could have had us standing and wait on the 18th tee while it was getting dark. It was great sportsmanship and shows the great character of those two guys and I’m glad they did it.”
Naturally comparisons were again drawn between he had the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods but McIlroy was downplaying it.
“I try and put all this talk aside every time it comes up, but Tiger and Jack are two of the most successful players in our sport of all time. I’m on a nice track at the minute and 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.”
He is looking forward to a brief break following the intensity of recent weeks.
“I’m not sure I’ll ever have another summer like this, so I’ve got a week off now and I’m going to enjoy it. I’ve got a lot of golf left to play this year, but I have to enjoy what I’ve just done.”
Mickelson was disappointed but acknowledge the great course that Valhalla is.
“It’s a great place to play golf here, it really is," said the five time major championship winner. "The crowds in 2008 at The Ryder Cup were something I’ll always remember. They were the same in the three PGA Championships we’ve played here. I’m sure The PGA of America will come back here. It’s such a great place to host the event, wonderful course. If it had been firmer and faster without the rain, it would have been a spectacular test. It’s so beautiful and rewards great play; it’s fun to play here and the people are terrific.
“It’s good for me to get back in the thick of it; to get back in contention, to compete in big tournaments. And it’s just fun. It’s just fun.
“I know that regardless of how I played this week, I know that I’ve got to address some things these next three or four months, and I think that the next four or five years, I really want to make special, and then we’ll see.
“I feel like I’m a lot closer to great play than what this year showed, and this is just a little glimpse of what I feel I can do and I’ll see if I can work on it some more.
“But I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to address these issues.”
Jason Day and Adam Scott tied as the leading Australians in a share of 15th, Scott continuing his progress over the final 54 holes after a slow start on Thursday and Day struggling over the final 18 holes after being right in the thick of things for so long earlier in the week.
Marc Leishman, Geoff Ogilvy and Matt Jones were the next best of the Australians and the only others to make the cut when tied for 47th.