US PGA Championship: McIlroy feeling confident as Spieth seeks milestone

By Sports Desk May 18, 2021

Energised by the return of spectators, Rory McIlroy is confident he can end his major drought at this week's US PGA Championship.

McIlroy arrives in South Carolina buoyed by his drought-snapping victory at the Wells Fargo Championship earlier this month.

Not since November 2019 had McIlroy reigned supreme on the PGA or European Tour but the former world number one ended his wait at Quail Hollow.

McIlroy has not won a major since 2014, however the 2012 and 2014 PGA Championship winner feels good heading into Thursday's opening round.

"I'm happy with where my game is, so I guess if I go out and play my game and do what I know that I can do, then I can see myself shooting good scores on this golf course," four-time major champion McIlroy told reporters.

"So that's sort of where I'm at. Whether that means I win or not, that's partly up to me, but that's partly on how the other 155 guys in the field play, as well.

"I've just got to go out there, play my game, and if I play my game somewhat close to the best of my ability, I'm sure I'll have a good chance."

Fans returned for the Wells Fargo Championship amid the coronavirus pandemic as McIlroy thrived en route to glory and there will be fans at Kiawah Island this week.

"It's funny, ever since I was 16 years old I've had thousands of people watch me play golf pretty much every time I teed it up. Even going back to amateur golf and. So then not having that, playing in that environment for 14, 15 years and then sort of going the complete opposite, it's just different," he said.

"I said at the time it was like playing practice rounds. It's easy to lose concentration. Everyone is used to a certain environment, whether you work or whatever you do, and it's a bit. I watched the Champions League semi-finals a couple weeks ago and those guys play in that for the first time in their careers and they're playing in an empty stadium. That just must be terrible. That's not at all how you dream of being in a squad like that and playing in a massive game.

"You want to play in front of people and you want to feel that atmosphere. It's unfortunate that in these times a lot of people don't have that experience, but I am glad that we're getting back to some sort of normalcy, and when you hit good shots and hole putts there is claps and rewards and encouragement.

"I feel like that's all a part of tournament golf and competitive sports at the highest level, and just happy that I'm starting to come back."

Another former world number one, Jordan Spieth, is eyeing a milestone at the PGA Championship.

Spieth, who ended his fourth-year title drought in Texas last week, can become the sixth player in history to complete the career Grand Slam and the first to do so by winning a PGA Championship.

The three-time major winner, though, played down his career Grand Slam quest.

"I think as we get into the weekend, if I'm able to work my way into contention, I think it's something that'll obviously be asked and come up, and it's something that I certainly want," Spieth said.

"You go to a major, and for me at this point, I want to win the Masters as badly as I ever have this year. Didn't happen.

"I want to win this one as badly as I ever have. Once you move on to the U.S. Open, the same. Majors, that's what we're trying to peak for those.

"I feel like I'll have a lot of chances at this tournament, and if I just focus on trying to take advantage of this golf course, play it the best I can and kind of stay in the same form tree to green I've been in, all I can ask for is a chance."

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    "It's tough, you know, to finish like that," he said. "A really good week, but I didn't play really well today.

    "I just needed to do a couple more birdies, and hit it a little bit better to win.

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    "[The drive] wasn't a good stroke, but I just wasn't thinking about the water. I thought it was weird that it went in [the water]. 

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    Speaking to the media after stepping off the 18th green, Thomas had one specific shot in mind – and it was not one of his best, highlighting a pure shank off the tee on the sixth hole.

    "It was a bizarre day," he said. "I have definitely crossed one off the list – I have never won a tournament shanking a ball on Sunday, so that was the first, and I would really like it to be the last.

    "Bones [caddie Jim 'Bones' Mackay] did an unbelievable job of just keeping me in the moment and I just tried to play the golf course for what it is.

    "This place is so tough. It was funny – I was asked earlier in the week about what lead is safe and I said 'no lead' because this place is so tough. But if you hit the fairways you can make birdies, and I stayed so patient. 

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    Later when speaking to Sky Sports, Thomas reflected on just how difficult it is to win a major after some questioned if he would finish his career with just the one, and admitted he did not check the leaderboard all day.

    "It is very, very special," he said. "Anytime you win is obviously great, but getting it done different ways teaches you a lot. 

    "This golf course is tough. Winning tournaments is tough. Winning a major is tough.

    "I just tried to stay patient, and I felt when I somehow got myself in the play-off it was time to get after it and get it done.

    "I did not look at the leaderboard today – Bones did an unbelievable job of just keeping me in the moment. We were just out playing Southern Hills on a beautiful day, on a Sunday.

    "I could kind of feel through the energy in the crowd that I had a chance, and I know that all the players up ahead of me are great players, but had not won a major, and it is a big moment. 

    "I know I am very nervous, so I know they are very nervous, and I just tried to tell myself that all I can do is control what I can and if it's good enough, great, if not, so be it.

    "It is awesome. it is so nice to hear two-time [champion] instead of one-time."

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