In late May, Rory McIlroy departed Oak Hill and the US PGA Championship having conceded he arrived at the major carrying little hope of success. This was quite an admission from an individual who has pursued trophies as routine since childhood.
What a difference three weeks make. “I started thinking about winning this thing when I came here on Monday,” said a revitalised McIlroy. A second round of 67 at the LA Country Club, added to day one’s 65, leaves him eight under par and perfectly positioned for a tilt at major number five. By close of play on day two, McIlroy sat two adrift of Rickie Fowler, the latter backing up a record-breaking 62 with a 68.
McIlroy needs no reminder that he won his last of golf’s big four in August of 2014. “No one wants me to win another major more than I do,” added the 34-year-old. “The desire is obviously there. I have come close over the past nine years and I keep coming back.
“I feel like I’ve showed a lot of resilience in my career. There have been a lot of ups and downs and I keep coming back. Whether that means that I get rewarded or I get punched in the gut or whatever it is, I’ll always keep coming back.”
McIlroy’s second round backed up his point. He dropped shots at the 11th – his 2nd – plus the 13th and 17th when reaching the turn in 37. McIlroy’s response was powerful; for a second day in succession, he played the front half in 30. He signed off with a tap-in birdie at the par-three 9th. “It feels like a sort of golf course where you try to make your score on the front and then try to hang on on the back,” said McIlroy. He will be eyeing a fast start in round three.
Much was made in the lead-up to this tournament about the supposedly model approach of Brooks Koepka, who won at Oak Hill. Koepka, who portrays an image of not letting external factors annoy him, broke his own code after signing for a 69 which leaves him level par on aggregate.
“I’m not a huge fan of this place,” said Koepka. “I’m not a huge fan of blind tee shots and then I think there’s some spots that no matter what you hit, the ball just ends up in the same spot. I think it would be more fun to play on just like a regular round than it would be a US Open.” Koepka’s comments are unlikely to go down well in this infamously stuffy environment. Not that he is likely to care.
Wyndham Clark’s 67 moved him to minus nine. Dustin Johnson bounced back from a quadruple bogey eight at the 2nd to make a level-par 70. At minus six, Johnson is right in this tournament.
“I have a lot of confidence in my game and with what I am doing right now,” said Johnson, the 2016 champion. “I have made some big numbers on holes before. This isn’t the first time.
“With two majors, I know what it takes to win. I will have to do everything well over the next 36 holes.”
Matt Fitzpatrick’s day included a memorable hole-in-one at the 15th. It was his first ace as a professional. “My hand was sore from all the high-fiving,” said the defending champion.
The R&A, meanwhile, has confirmed Tiger Woods will not play in next month’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. Woods, who won the last of his three Claret Jugs at Hoylake in 2006, withdrew from the Masters two months ago and subsequently underwent fusion surgery on his right ankle. There was no expectation Woods would feature in the final major of the year.
“We have been advised that he won’t be playing at Hoylake,” said a spokesperson for the R&A. “We wish Tiger all the best with his recovery.” It remains at least possible Woods will not feature in mainstream tournament golf again.