Rory McIlroy achieves back-to-back top-five finishes in the PGA Championship as he seeks his fifth major

Rory McIlroy dug a hole too deep to climb out of during the first two days of the Wells Fargo Championship at the TPC Potomac. The four-time major champion even shot par in his last start before the PGA Championship to undercut the number before mowing down the field over the weekend.

McIlroy’s 68-68 on Saturday and Sunday was surpassed by just one player in the field (Cameron Young) and catapulted him from an early start time on Saturday morning to a late finish on Sunday afternoon. With a fifth-place finish at the TPC Potomac and a second solo finish at the Masters, McIlroy now has two consecutive top-five finishes in the PGA Championship for the first time since 2017 (he finished T22 at Quail Hollow at that PGA).

Perhaps more importantly, McIlroy hits the ball pretty well. After leading the Masters field in shots from tee to green (via Data Golf), he again finished in the top 10 in that category at Wells Fargo. An approach play that has been absent intermittently this season has been stellar twice in a row, and the distance that gave McIlroy the most strokes (50-125 yards) was a place where he grew immensely over 72 holes at TPC Potomac improved.

Justin Ray wrote about it earlier this week, but over the season McIlroy’s average distance to the hole from that distance was 24 feet and his total was 3 overs. Neither of those numbers are good at all, and McIlroy improved them to 17 feet and 2 under in difficult conditions. It’s certainly not McIlroy’s only route to victory or competitiveness in major championships, but it appears to be the easiest.

McIlroy is having a great summer on deck. His next start will be at the PGA in Southern Hills ahead of the US Open at Brookline and the Open Championship at St. Andrews, a golf course he owns obsessed for parts of his career. His chances of winning a Major, with his good driving, haven’t been that good in a couple of years and he’ll visit some places tailored to him.

“I’m very happy with where my game is,” said McIlroy. “I think just another week of practice and play. … My approach game is much better than before. Yes, I think about small things… like shot selection. Like the shot selection in 16 trying to hit hard there wedge and not quite hitting, hitting the piste, turning back onto the green, hitting a three-quarter iron 9, that might not happen… Sometimes it’s just like would you hit the right shot at the right time, stuff like that. But that’s just stuff you can learn in tournament golf, I guess.”

It would be easy to look at McIlroy’s game a year ago when he entered the PGA in Kiawah and say that he played better then than he does now because he went into the second major after winning that tournament last year. However, this time his ball shot was even better than last year and although he didn’t win it seems like everything is fine this time. Also a good thing because McIlroy finished T49 at this PGA.

“I play well, play really well,” McIlroy said. “No complaints about the game. Everything feels pretty solid. Like I said, just a few things coming down the track here and there, a few missed putts, but really other than that I feel like the game is in is in good shape.”

There are many things that have to happen for McIlroy (or anyone else) to win a major. For Rory in particular, it’s often his approach play (especially from closer ranges) and avoidance of blow-up rounds (his 73 in Round 2 this week nearly resulted in a missed cut). However, he certainly hits the ball well enough – both statistically and anecdotally – to fight What would a fifth major add to his already oversized collection.

A handful of players will head to Tulsa among the favorites to win another PGA Championship without lights. As the past few weeks have gone by, the two at the top of this list should perhaps also be the two at the top of the Masters leaderboard. Scottie Scheffler (with four wins this year) plays the best golf in the world by far, but Rory McIlroy – after a second-place finish at Augusta National and a good performance this week at TPC Potomac – could be next on this list. Rory McIlroy achieves back-to-back top-five finishes in the PGA Championship as he seeks his fifth major

Justin Scacco

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