McIlroy solidifying himself as Tiger's heir-apparent

PGA golfer Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, speaks during a press conference held during practice...

PGA golfer Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, speaks during a press conference held during practice for the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Country Club. (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

TIM MCKAY, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 8:33 PM ET

Is the Rory McIlroy Era upon us?

We tried to usher it in all too quickly following his breakthrough major victory at the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, but it feels a little different now as he prepares for this week’s 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club.

McIlroy completed the third leg of his career grand slam just a few weeks ago and re-ascended to the World No. 1 spot after a World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational victory on Sunday. All this coming into the PGA Championship, the major in which he has had the most career success, including his win at Kiawah in 2012.

It’s all heady stuff for a 25-year-old, who has had to learn to deal with the immense pressure and scrutiny that comes with being a star, both on and off the golf course.

Taking the podium here Tuesday morning before a throng of worldwide media, McIlroy’s maturity was apparent, answering questions with the reserved confidence.

He knows golf is looking for an heir-apparent to Tiger Woods and he knows his recent good play has again marked him as the chosen one, but he also knows that these things take time and the results have to speak for themselves.

So what about it, kid? Is this the dawning of the Rory Era?

“Umm, I don’t really know how to answer that. Yeah, of course I’ve heard it and I’ve read it,” McIlroy said. “Sometimes I feel like people are too quick to jump to conclusions and jump on the bandwagon.”

The bandwagon? Your recent play has been off the charts.

“I’ve had a great run of golf and I’ve played well over the past few months.”

A bit of an understatement from the young Northern Irishman as he looks for his third victory in consecutive starts in huge events, one that would certainly seal player-of-the-year status.

While understated, McIlroy does have the confidence in abilities to be the game’s best.

“I said at the start of the year that golf was looking for somebody to put their hand up and sort of become the most dominant player in the game, and I felt like I had the ability to do that,” McIlroy said.

To be the most dominant player in the game, however, one must get on these rolls more often. The space between McIlroy’s 2012 PGA Championship and his 2014 British Open victory could not be considered as such.

And that’s why even McIlroy is hesitant to buy into the hype that surrounds him this week.

“It’s just nice to be able to win a few tournaments and get back to where I feel like I should be, which is near the top of the world rankings and competing in majors and winning golf tournaments,” he said.

“So I’m not necessarily sure you can call that an era or the start of an era.”

Not necessarily, but it’s fun for the fans and the media, nonetheless.

“People can say what they want to say, that’s fine, but I can’t read too much into it and I just need to continue to practice hard and play well and if I can do that, that’s all I can do,” McIlroy said.

His approach this week is to keep the good times rolling. He took Monday off as a rest day he felt was “needed,” and played a practise round on Tuesday. He said as much as his schedule could lead to fatigue, it also could help him stay in his zone.

Also, he’s not looking at himself as the favourite.

“I don’t read too much of the stuff that’s being written because if you read everything that has been written, I’d show up to the first tee here on Thursday thinking I’d already won the tournament.”

SCOTT CONCEDES TOP SPOT

He agrees with it, but he doesn’t have to like it.

A gracious No. 2 Adam Scott said Tuesday that Rory McIlroy deserves to be the world’s top-ranked golfer given his recent string of success. But Scott didn’t sound willing to give up the mantle, which he lost Monday after holding it since his win in late May at the Crowne Plaza Invitational, so easily.

“I think the right guy is at No. 1 at the moment,” Scott said Tuesday. “(Rory has) played the best over the last couple months.”

With a win this week at the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club, Scott would take back the No. 1 spot, no matter what McIlroy does. There are some other scenarios – some that could involve Nos. 3 and 4 Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia respectively taking over the No. 1 spot – but a win by either of the top two takes care of it.

The official golf world ranking often is criticized – it’s based on a two-year cycle and weighted points system – but Scott, who has been consistent over that period of time, thinks they’re bang on right now.

“The guy who is winning the most tournaments probably should be the No. 1 player, and (McIlroy) has won two, well three (when you factor in the European PGA Championship), really big tournaments this summer, and I’ve won one event.”

Scott admitted that being consistent isn’t good enough, that it’s all about winning.

“Yeah, my consistent play is good, but you want the rankings to work and favour the guys that win big events like that. So I think it’s fair at the moment.”

The summer of McIlroy has derailed Scott’s own ambitions at becoming the dominant player in the world, a fact not lost on a guy who has made no bones about what he wants.

“It’s only motivating to see Rory play so well,” Scott said. “I’ve said a lot that I feel this is my time, so I’ve got to beat whatever Rory is doing out there, and I believe I can.”

And his game is solid at the moment, too, coming off a tie for eighth at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week.

“I’ve been playing really solid golf this summer and not really got the result I want, which is a win. And I think I just have to really put my head down and push through this week,” Scott said. “A lot of the other playing some really great golf this summer and ultimately, it will come down to who makes the most putts.”

Maybe he’s too nice of a guy to say that the 34-year-old Aussie has thrown down the gauntlet, but it’s fair to say it’s game on with not only the PGA Championship, but the world No. 1 designation at stake.

“I hope that I could go ahead and win this week and maybe go back to No. 1,” Scott finished.

NO EXPECTATIONS

Graham DeLaet has already gone through the wringer, and he hasn’t even teed it up in competition yet this week’s PGA Championship.

The 32-year-old native of Weyburn, Sask., has been battling the flu, which forced him to withdraw from the WGC Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday, losing about 10 pounds over the past few days.

On Tuesday, a frail-looking DeLaet walked nine holes in the 33 C Kentucky heat, afterwards saying he was going to rest and get hooked up to an intravenous drip to hydrate, something he’d done in the days prior as well.

His goal for the week so far is just to be up to full strength by his tee time on Thursday (1:15 p.m. off hole No. 1).

“Oh, I’m probably down about 10 pounds,” DeLaet told the small contingent of Canadian reporters following his practise round. “I was in pretty rough shape.”

He says he’s fine now, but it has put him behind where he normally would be coming into a big week.

“A little tired, a little weak, I’m feeling better physically, but it has kind of taken its toll on me,” he said. “I feel, especially with a late Thursday tee time, that I should be good to go. The preparation may be a little bit different -- it’s just nine holes (Tuesday) and nine holes (Wednesday) -- but you know the main thing is just to try to be as physically healthy as can be.”

The other added upshot is that no one expects much given his condition the past few days, which could be an advantage.

“There’s no real expectations, and sometimes that’s a good thing,” DeLaet said.

“We’re going to do all we can to be ready but the main focus is to be healthy.”

tim.mckay@sunmedia.ca

 


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