On the heels of two straight victories at the British Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Rory McIlroy has been far and away the best golfer in the world in recent weeks.
On Thursday, he rose to the occasion yet again during the first day of the 2014 PGA Championship to finish with a five-under 66 and tied for fourth.
The No. 1 player in the world came into the tournament with confidence after the recent run of success. With former No. 1 Tiger Woods struggling to find consistency with his game in recent years, analysts are now tabbing him as the next big thing in the sport.
McIlroy, on the other hand, is simply excited about his blistering pace in recent weeks, per Cam Cole of the National Post:
I’m not necessarily sure you can call it an era or the start of an era, but I’m just really happy with where my golf game is at the minute. People can say what they want to say, that’s fine, but if I read everything that was being written, I’d turn up at the first tee on Thursday thinking I’d already won the tournament.
He certainly didn't win the PGA Championship on Thursday, but he put himself in contention.
After starting the front nine at a solid pace with three birdies, he needed to rally late. The 10th and 11th were a much different story as he lost all three shots.
What McIlroy did from there was shocking for even the most astute golf fans, clinching a spot in the top five and walking off the course with five more birdies.
With the consistency remaining in McIlroy's game, his scorecard had its ups and downs, but still wound up as one of the best on the day.
Following another round where he finished in the top five, he's clearly within reach of the leaders after Thursday's action.
Here's a look at the updated leaderboard:
During his already decorated career, McIlroy has already won the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. But, when it comes to consistently mastering a major, the PGA Championship has been kind to the 25-year-old golfer.
John Buccigross of ESPN takes a look at McIlroy's overall numbers in each major:
Rory McIlroy Career by Major (to par) PGA -18 Masters +8 Open Champ. +15 U.S. Open +26— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) August 6, 2014
As for what's on the line with McIlroy looking to win his second PGA Championship, he's attempting to add his name to another list along with Woods and Jack Nicklaus. A fourth major means a lot for the young golfer, as ESPN Stats & Info notes:
Rory McIlroy could become 3rd golfer in Masters Era (since 1934) with 4 Majors by age 25 (Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus) pic.twitter.com/1lfFcikfeO— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 5, 2014
Following his British Open triumph, McIlroy was paired with Masters and U.S. Open winners Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer, respectively.
The first hole for McIlroy was solid, but he saw the other two golfers in his pairing fare better. While his opening drive looked promising to set up a birdie, McIlroy was unable to convert.
PGA Tour's account notes how McIlroy started along with a breakdown of Watson and Kaymer:
Rory McIlroy hit a big tee shot at No. 1 and left his sand wedge 12 feet above the hole, but missed his birdie low. Bubba, Kaymer birdied.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 7, 2014
Missing out on a birdie on the first tee didn't rattle McIlroy, though, as he continued to baffle with his great swing. McIlroy maintained par through the first three holes, but one shot left the crowd in awe early on.
PGA.com provides a look at the masterful shot:
He would end with par after the shot, but finished with a birdie on No. 4 to dip below par for the first time in the tournament. McIlroy would go on to rattle off two more birdies to sit at three under through the front nine.
That was when things appeared to unravel for the young golfer. The troubles for McIlroy began on the 10th, as he finished with a double bogey, as Amanda Balionis of PGATour.com points out:
Following that catastrophe, McIlroy was unable to quickly rebound and bogeyed on the 11th to return to par. But, after erasing all momentum from first nine holes, McIlroy returned to his championship form on the 12th.
A birdie on the following hole started a run of four consecutive birdies that put McIlroy right back in contention. Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel takes a look at the bizarre run for the No. 1 player:
Rory McIlroy's last seven holes: Birdie-double-bogey-birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) August 7, 2014
The final birdie for McIlroy was also shared by PGA.com:
He would of course close out the round with another birdie after falling just short of an eagle. Needless to say, he bounced back completely from the rough patch in the middle.
Will McIlroy win the PGA Championship?
McIlroy climbed his way back into contention after a rough patch, but he will need another strong round on Friday to finish atop the leaderboard. With three players tied atop the leaderboard after Day 1, the final major is still up for grabs.
Though his rounds on Friday were sporadic earlier in the season, they've been tremendous in recent tournaments. At Bridgestone, McIlroy put together a six-under 64 before winning the competition.
McIlroy, Watson and Kaymer will all tee off again together on Friday at 8:35 a.m. from the first hole. If he can put together a similar day on Friday, McIlroy has a chance to make another run over the weekend for his fourth major.
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