LOUISVILLE: Rory McIlroy, fresh off his third major triumph, leads a new generation of multiple major winners trying to separate themselves from the pack going into the 96th PGA Championship.
The year’s final major golf championship begins Thursday at Valhalla, with McIlroy eager to carry over the momentum from his British Open victory at Royal Liverpool.
“I always feel like winning a major is almost a springboard,” McIlroy said. “I’ve got a lot of momentum and I can carry that through to the end of the year and hopefully ride that and play some really good golf.”
McIlroy, whose other major wins include the 2012 PGA Championship and 2011 US Open, became the third player this year to add another major to his resume.
American Bubba Watson won his second Masters title in three seasons, and Germany’s Martin Kaymer followed up his 2010 PGA Championship title with a runaway US Open triumph in June.
This could be the first year since 2000—and only the second since 1980—when none of a year’s four major champions was a first-time winner.
“There are these first-time winners, a change of the best players in the game, now winning their second or third major, establishing the greatest players of this era of the game now,” said Australian Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion whose world number one ranking was under threat from McIlroy as the PGA Championship approached.
“There weren’t that many guys out here with multiple majors for a while. I think we’re getting to another level of the game now where we’re seeing the new era of great players.”
In 1980, Nicklaus won the US Open and PGA at age 40 and Spanish legend Seve Ballesteros won his first Masters title after taking his first major nine months earlier at the British Open.
In 2000, Fiji’s Vijay Singh won his second major at the Masters and Tiger Woods won the last three majors of the season to launch the “Tiger Slam”, the third of those at Valhalla in the PGA Championship.
Woods, a 14-time major champion whose chase of Nicklaus’ record 18 major wins has been stalled since the 2008 US Open, comes off his worst 72-hole major result as a professional, a share of 69th at Hoylake.
But he has played only three events since March following back surgery to relieve a pinched nerve.
“The speed is developing,” Woods said. “I’ve gotten stronger, but we’re just now introducing explosive training. The explosiveness is going to come back.
“Everything needs to get a little bit better. Just got to get more efficient at what I’m doing. My good shots are still really good. My bad shots need to be in positions where I know I should miss.
“I just need to keep progressing. It takes a little bit of time.”
Time is ticking for Spain’s Sergio Garcia, who at 34 is still chasing his first major victory.
Garcia shared second at the British Open, his fourth major runner-up effort, but has not seen Valhalla since Europe’s 2008 Ryder Cup loss to the United States.
“It’s not my favorite golf course in the world,” Garcia said.
Scott, Fowler confident
Time is ticking on Scott as well. He uses the anchored putting stroke style that will be outlawed starting in 2016. But he likes how he is playing now.
“I’m pretty motivated to get a result at the PGA. I feel like my game is up there to win a major,” Scott said.
“I feel like this is my time. I’m playing the best golf of my life. I want to take advantage of that. I’ve played a lot of good golf in these majors. I want to take home some wins.”
Rickie Fowler knows that feeling. The 25-year-old American still seeks his first major crown after sharing fifth at the Masters and second at the US and British Opens.
“I’m pleased with the way the year has gone, and it’s only made me more comfortable and more confident going into big situations like that,” Fowler said.
“Really just have to keep putting myself in those positions. This year has definitely been a step in the right direction.”