Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Rory McIlroy likes his chances to win a third PGA Championship this week


SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Rory McIlroy sounds like a guy who is salivating at the opportunity in front of him.

This week is the season’s final major, the PGA Championship, in which he’s won in each of the last two even-numbered years. He’s coming off a T-5 finish in the last major, just two weeks ago at the British Open. And he’s playing on a golf course in Baltusrol’s Lower track that he seems to have quickly taken a shining.

“There’s no real hidden secrets to it,” McIlroy said Tuesday of the PGA of America’s major setup philosophy. “And I feel that’s what really let’s me excel. I feel like I can play my game in PGA Championships. I can hit driver off the tee the most time, and from there, if I drive it well, I feel like I have a big advantage.”

That’s particularly true here at Baltusrol, where players don’t encounter par 5s but for the 17th and 18th holes, one playing some 650 yards, followed by a 540-yard test that takes the driver out of a player’s hands.

“You’ve got to drive the ball in the fairway, and pretty long, as well,” he said. “Looking at the scorecard there, there’s a lot of par 4s that are sort of up in the 480-, 500-yard mark.”

There are few players in the field that can reduce a 7,400-yard golf course to a pitch-and-putt, but McIlroy is one of them. His driving potency — distance and accuracy — has never been at issue. The problems have been, of late, iron play and putting. After shaking off the adjustments required to play in the weather at Royal Troon, McIlroy feels good with those lagging facets of his game.

“I feel like I’m swinging it well. I’m hitting it good,” he said. “Every aspect of my game, I’m very comfortable with. So you know, combine that with the layout of the golf course here, and I feel like this is my best chance this year to win a major.”

A fifth major would quickly transform was has otherwise been a modest year for McIlroy. He’s only won once, albeit an important Irish Open win that finally ended his winless skid on the Emerald Isle. He’s fallen behind Jason Day and Dustin Johnson — and is still behind the vexing Jordan Spieth — in the world ranking.

“A grade this year? I’d say like a B-minus maybe, B. It’s okay,” McIlroy said. “I could change that into an A-plus on Sunday.”

Viewing the judgment on this or any season through the lens of four tournaments creates a lot of pressure, something Day, Johnson and Spieth haven’t been dealing with as long as the Ulsterman. Day has tried to turn stress into a positive. Johnson seems immune to it. Spieth is bristling at the letdown — one McIlroy predicted — after an incredible 2015.

McIlroy? He’s realized his standard and, by and large, he’s lived up to it. Now he has one more chance to keep on the kind of pace that would let him “retire at 40 and be very happy.”

“If you can win one of the four every year; if you’re that good, you can do that,” he said. “I think it is realistic. I think that is achievable. We’ve seen in the past that is achievable. That’s the benchmark.”

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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