by Jeff Skinner
So much for the naysayers that don’t hold the PGA Championship in the same regard as the other three majors. Once again the PGA had the most exciting major of the season. Even Mother Nature couldn’t ruin the greatest finish of the year.
On the soaked and softened Valhalla Golf Course we got to see a true prizefight as Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson went blow to blow in what for awhile looked like a Battle Royal from the World Wrestling Federation.
The last man standing was Rory McIlroy and his emphatic fist pump as the winning putt fell was indeed a knockout punch. McIlroy has now won two consecutive majors with a World Golf Championship wedged between them. His winning streak of three straight is a resounding declaration of his position in the game. Right now he is the best golfer in the game, bar none.
It wasn’t an easy day for the 25 year old Northern Irishman. He saw his one stroke lead disappear rather quickly as he carded two bogeys in his first six holes while his challengers were lighting up a generous Valhalla.
Stenson birdied five of his front nine holes and went out in 30. Mickelson birdied two of his first three and finished the front nine in four under 31. Fowler carded the lone bogey of these three on the front but bounced back with a string of three birds and went out in 32.
This left McIlroy, who showed no visible signs of stress, three strokes behind. He had lost control of the championship but not of his composure or his game.
Knowing he needed to kick start his game on the back nine he unleashed a vicious three wood from the tenth fairway. His ball ran and ran onto the green and settled ten feet from the hole. It seemed to be the only shot that got any run out on Valhalla all week.
McIlroy stepped up and stroked it in for an eagle three which got him to -14 only one back of Fowler. At that point the race was indeed on and the four of them traded blows throughout the back nine and Rory landed the most powerful ones.
Stenson made some amazing saves but unfortunately they were for pars and could only manage one birdie and a matching bogey.
Fowler did the same but an amazing shot from the fifteenth fairway into the sixteenth could only salvage a par.
Mickelson was the real threat to McIlroy on the back but he still trailed by two shots on eighteen. Mickelson almost forced a playoff as his eagle chip ran just by the hole.
McIlroy’s margin of victory came with his birdie on seventeen where he got up and down from a fairway bunker to get to sixteen under par. He bunkered his approach on eighteen also but he had no problem with that at all.
A less than perfect bunker shot was followed by an excellent lag putt and all that was needed was a tap in to finish off his competition for a one stroke victory.
McIlroy has joined some very rare company with this PGA Championship. Only three other golfers have won four majors at 25 or younger: Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Jones.
McIlroy is a five foot ten inches tall and weighs about 160 pounds. But he is no lightweight. This kid is one of the great heavyweights.
It’s fitting that McIlroy won here in Louisville the home of Muhammad Ali, the greatest of all time.
McIlroy won this heavyweight match today and it’s too soon to start a Rory versus Jack count.
He’s not the greatest of all time, yet. But he’s off to a great start.