By Jay Betsill
Rory McIlroy won his second consecutive major championship and fourth of his career, with a dynamic rally on the back nine in the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club. After a dominant victory at the the Open Championship followed by a two-shot win at the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational, the No.1 player in the world validated his top spot by beating the titans of the game including Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson.
McIlroy was ignited by an eagle on No. 10 when he had been trailing Fowler by three shots. The back nine would provide some of the best theater in recent memory as the players challenged the majestic course that was saturated from a weekend full of rain that included a one hour, 50 minute delay on Sunday.
“The eagle on 10 was massive,” McIlroy said. “I started the round really tentatively…while everyone else was attacking, so that wasn’t good. After Rickie holed that putt on No. 10 to go up three, that eagle to get back to one behind with eight to play was massive.”
Due to weather delay, it was very likely that play would be delayed until Monday. However, a bizarre scene on No. 18 occurred with Fowler and Mickelson allowing McIlroy to play up in order to beat the horn and enable him to finish. It was originally intended for McIlroy to tee off and then wait in the fairway while the penultimate group putted out, but confusion led to McIlroy being able to hit before they finished and basically ending the season’s final major with a foursome on the 72nd hole.
“It was a classy move by Phil and Rickie,” McIlroy added. “They could have had us standing on the 18th tee while it was getting dark and they didn’t. They showed true sportsmanship, it shows the true character of those guys and I am obviously very thankful that they did it. Had they not done that, we might not have been able to get finished today because it was getting really dark.”
In the end, McIlroy’s 3-under 68 was good enough to best Mickelson (66) by one shot and Fowler and Stenson by two strokes. He is the third player in the modern era to have four major titles before the age of 26 joining Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
“I was happy being a two-time major champion,” he said. “Now all of a sudden, I am a four-time major champion going for a career grand slam at Augusta in 292, 291 days, not that I’m counting. It’s been an incredible run and I couldn’t be more proud of myself or happier with where my game is at.”
Notables in the field included Jim Furyk, (T5, -12), Ernie Els (T7, -11), Jimmy Walker (T7, -11), Steve Stricker (T7, -11), Adam Scott (T15, -9), Jason Day (T15, -9) and Justin Rose (T24, -8). Next week’s stop on the PGA Tour is the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C. The field includes defending champion Patrick Reed, Nick Watney, David Toms, Webb Simpson, Davis Love III, Brandt Snedeker, Padraig Harrington, Retief Goosen, David Duval and Fred Couples.
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