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McIlroy wins but is still searching on Kiawah Island


For Rory McIlroy, winning didn’t mean anything.

McIlroy missed the cut at The Players Championship, then admitted he’d messed up his momentum to keep up with the long-hitting Bryson DeChambeau. Another miscalculation followed in the Masters and McIlroy fell to 15th place in the world, his worst rank in more than a decade.

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He showed up at Quail Hollow three weeks later and won. His first win in 18 months was enough to make him the betting favorite at this week’s PGA Championship according to FanDuel Sportsbook, but McIlroy’s recent bouts stay fresh on his mind.

“It was a great confirmation that I was working on the right things, but it was only one step in the process,” said McIlroy on Tuesday.

“I want to get better. I want my game to be better. I want to be more consistent,” he added. “It was nice to see some results early on. But I feel like there is still a long way to go.”

Coming back to Kiawah Island, where McIlroy won the first of his two PGA championships nine years ago, doesn’t exactly fill him with confidence either. With the PGA moving from August to May, this time around, the Ocean Course is firmer, windier, and less forgiving.

McIlroy has changed too. He still had curly hair out of his cap and roundness in his cheeks as he set off to an exuberant eight-shot win in 2012. Now he is 32 years old, a married father with gray patches in his cropped hair and straight hair, wiry frame.

“Yes, everything has really changed,” said McIlroy. “I feel like a completely different person.”

Case in point: McIlroy’s celebration or lack of it after winning the Wells Fargo Championship. He could have been any father returning from a long day at the office.

“I got on the plane around 7:45 a.m. Sunday night, got home probably around 10 a.m., put (daughter) Poppy in bed, showered, and went to bed myself,” said McIlroy. “I was exhausted.”

McIlroy’s recent search for form led him to add swing coach Pete Cowen to his team and have some long conversations with sports psychologist Bob Rotella. When asked what he was looking for from Rotella, McIlroy quipped, “A lobotomy.”

“Look, it’s not something I haven’t heard before, but Bob just puts it that it’s that simple and can make you laugh,” McIlroy said of the informal therapy sessions. “We are in contact every week and I really appreciate his contribution.”

Working at Quail Hollow has paid off, bringing McIlroy back to the top of a sport that currently lacks a dominant player. He is number 7 in the world. Four of the players above him each have a win this year, and Jon Rahm No. 3 and Xander Schauffele No. 4 are winless. The hottest big name in golf is Jordan Spieth, who fell to 92nd place in the world in January but has since taken one win and six more top 10 finishes in nine starts.

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McIlroy will play Thursday and Friday with another two-time PGA champion, Brooks Koepka, who was recovering from knee surgery two months ago. McIlroy and Koepka each have four major titles – only 50-year-old Phil Mickelson, who has five, in the 156-man field.

McIlroy got his second major out of the way early. When asked what that meant to him, he spotted Justin Thomas, whose only major at the 2017 PGA was waiting to take his turn on the podium.

“A lot of people have won a major, but getting a second is a big hurdle,” said McIlroy. His gaze was fixed on his friend as he sharpened the needle. “I definitely didn’t want to get stuck with one for long, so happy to get this second.”

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