McIlroy last night began his quest for the fourth major title of his career and a third win in a row having had his tee time in the final pairing with Bernd Wiesberger delayed by an hour and 25 minutes after a downpour caused an hour and 51-minute suspension of play.
That did not bother McIlroy, also seeking a four victory of 2014 following his wins in the BMW PGA Championship, the Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational that would be the first time an Irishman has achieved the feat.
The more sodden this 7,458-yard Valhalla course became — and a family of ducks were seen inspecting one of the water-covered greens during the suspension — the better the scenario for a player comfortably carrying the ball further through the air than anyone else this week, with no run on.
“I would be happy to wait here all week if it means lifting the Wanamaker Trophy,” McIlroy said pre-round. “So it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.”
At 25 years and 98 days, McIlroy would become the fourth youngest player to win four major championships after “Young” Tom Morris (aged 21), Tiger Woods (24) and Jack Nicklaus (25) if he were successful but that will have been furthest from his mind as the 2012 PGA champion got his final round under way.
With a one-shot overnight lead at 13 under, Wiesberger a shot back, Rickie Fowler two in arrears at 11 under par and Jason Day and Phil Mickelson looking to close a three-shot deficit, there was no cushion for the Irishman as there was at last month’s Open at Hoylake when he took a six-stroke lead into the final day and hung on for a two-shot win following a 71.
He needed better than a 71 last night, though, if his run of success was to continue. Mickelson, with two birdies in his first three holes, Fowler with two in his first four and Henrik Stenson all quickly moved to 12 under par alongside Wiesberger. McIlroy bogeyed the third hole to fall into a tie.
Yet if he did close out the deal, then Graeme McDowell was prepared to readdress the issue of whether it was time to start announcing the beginning of a “Rory Era” to replace that of Tiger Woods in an age of increasingly deeper fields.
“I said at The Open I didn’t think we were going to see the new Tiger as in someone creating their own kind of Tigeresque era, but I guess you could say I am not eating my words but I am certainly starting to chew on them,” said McDowell, who like Shane Lowry (67), finished his week at one under par following a two-under 69.
“WGC and a chance to win another major, when the kid is playing well he is pretty tough to live with. Pretty special stuff.
“His focus, he looks like he is mentally in a different place, he says that he has tied up a lot of his loose ends, loose ends probably not the right term, his personal life... he seems to be in a very good place, fair play to him. He is a great golfer, incredible player and when he is in that type of mood, he is pretty tough to beat.”
Asked how many majors McIlroy would win in his career, McDowell replied: “Knowing Rory as well as I have over the last few years, it didn’t seem to be like he was trying to beat Jack’s record (of 18).
“It is a case of how the guy is going to continue to motivate himself. He will win as many majors as he wants, he is that good. The game continues to get better around him as well, but it is very difficult to put a number on a guy. His fitness, health, but more importantly the mental aspect, Tiger’s drive was incredible. Jack’s record is looking tougher and tougher for him now. It is difficult to put a number. Eight’s low. I can’t really guess, it is very hard.”
Hard was the way McDowell found conditions during his round earlier in the day, and the Portrush golfer was unhappy that tournament organisers had not introduced a lift, clean and place policy.
“It was unplayable this morning, the ball should have been played up. Simple as. To me it is fairer out there if you can play the ball up. It is not fair if you can’t play the ball up, there is casual water everywhere. The ball is covered in mud. I actually hit the ball beautifully this weekend but the quadruple (at the par-four 13th) yesterday killed me. Today was just very hard.”