Rory McIlroy looks to recapture Kiawah Island magic

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KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Nine years feels like a few lifetimes ago for Rory McIlroy.

This is why the 32-year-old Northern Irishman doesn’t feel like any sort of “defending champion’’ at this week’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, where he captured his second of four career major championships in 2012.

“It’s nine years ago [but] it seems longer,’’ McIlroy said Tuesday. “It seems like there’s been a lot of time that’s passed, and I feel like I’m a different person and a different player. I played great here last time, obviously, and won my first PGA and my second major, but just because I did that doesn’t mean that I’m going to find it any easier this week than anyone else.

“I’ve maybe got some better memories and better vibes here than most of the other guys do and that’s obviously nice, but not sure it’s going to enable me to play any better. It is nice to be back.’’

McIlroy is back at Kiawah this week a married man with his first child, a daughter who’s not even a year old. He’s added and subtracted coaches and, most recently, has started working with renown golf mental coach Bob Rotella.

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy

McIlroy has not won a major championship since 2014, a stunning drought for a player who won four majors in his first four years as a pro.

“A lot has changed,’’ he said. “I’m in a completely different place in my life. I feel like a completely different person. I’m standing up here probably more confident in myself, happier with where I am in my life and just sort of enjoying everything a bit more. Yeah, it’s all good.’’

He, too, is coming off a win in his last start, the Wells Fargo two weeks ago at Quail Hollow. And, he of course, carries gre at memories from hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy at the Ocean Course in 2012.

“It was huge,’’ McIlroy recalled of his 2012 PGA win. “A lot of guys have won one major, but it’s a big hurdle to get to the second. It was good to get that monkey off my back, especially here, playing so well. So yeah, it was a big deal. I definitely didn’t want to be stuck on one for a long time, so happy to get that second.’’

Now the monkey on McIlroy’s back is the fact that it’s going on seven years since he last won major, which given his incredible talent feels as if he has underachieved.

McIlroy said he feels “very different’’ about his game entering this PGA than he did last month entering the Masters at Augusta, where he missed the cut.

“I went into the Masters searching and feeling like I was somewhat on the right track but still hadn’t seen any progress on the golf course,’’ McIlroy said.

McIlroy took time off after the Masters, turned up at Quail Hollow and won for the first time since 2019.

“Just having those extra couple weeks after Augusta to work on some more stuff and then go to Quail Hollow and start to see some good shots under pressure, I was like, ‘Oh, this is feeling a little more comfortable,’ ’’ he said. “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.’’

Adam Scott has little doubt about what McIlroy can do this week given his propensity to get on a sustained run when he gets hot.

“That [2012 PGA] was his second major win, and he’d won both majors by eight [shots],’’ Scott recalled. “That sounds pretty Tigeresque to me. When talented guys like a Tiger [Woods] or a Rory start doing that, it does make the game look easy, even on a really tough course.’’

Justin Thomas, a good friend of McIlroy’s, knows what might follow that win at the Wells Fargo.

“I know it’s been a really long time for him, so I’m glad to see him [win], but at the same time, I really don’t want to egg him on because usually when he wins, he likes to reel some off,’’ Thomas said. “And with a lot of big tournaments coming up I don’t really want to poke the bear.’’

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