LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Golf stories about Rory McIlroy are a lot more flattering than those from a year ago. And if he reads too much into them, they can be a lot more dangerous.
McIlroy went wire to wire at Hoylake to win the British Open. Then he overpowered Firestone last weekend to win his first World Golf Championships event, the Bridgestone Invitational. He is ranked No. 1 in the world and the favorite at the PGA Championship, which starts Thursday at Valhalla.
McIlroy is viewed by some observers as a sure thing, a label once reserved only for Tiger Woods.
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“Sometimes I feel that people are too quick to jump to conclusions,” McIlroy said Tuesday before heading out for his first look at Valhalla. “I’ve had a great run of golf and I’ve played well over the past few months. Look, I said at the start of the year that golf was looking for someone to put their hand up and sort of become one of the dominant players in the game. I felt like I had the ability to do that.
“And it’s just nice to be able to win a few tournaments and get back to where I feel I should be.”
McIlroy has three victories in his last seven starts. And with three legs of the career Grand Slam — only Woods and Jack Nicklaus were younger than the 25-year-old McIlroy when they achieved that — there was even talk about the start of a new era.
McIlroy wasn’t buying.
“I’m just really happy with where my golf game is at the minute, and I just want to try and continue that for as long as possible,” he said. “And people can say what they want to say. That’s fine. But I can’t read too much into it. … Because if you read everything that was being written, I’d turn up at the first tee on Thursday thinking I’d already won the tournament.”
The question lingered Tuesday whether Woods was going to make it to the first tee.
Woods injured his back Sunday at Firestone — four months after back surgery — and his news conference Tuesday was canceled. There was no word on his prospects, presumably because he wanted to give himself as much time as possible to see if he could play.
Even if Woods were to play, that might not take the focus from McIlroy.
McIlroy appears to be in full flight, just as he was in his record victory at Congressional in the 2011 U.S. Open, and just as he was when he won the PGA Championship by a record eight shots in 2012, and then added three more victories the rest of the year against strong fields.
Valhalla, where Woods won 14 years ago, would appear to be suited for McIlroy. Then again, just about any course is for a guy who hits it long and straight.
McIlroy said he has added about seven pounds of muscle in recent months, and he is the heaviest he has been. He also has shortened his swing, which would make him more accurate off the tee.
“He’s such a great driver of the golf ball,” Phil Mickelson said while discussing McIlroy’s play at Firestone.
• David Toms, who won the 2001 PGA Championship, has withdrawn from this year’s event because of a back injury.
He was replaced in the field by Shawn Stefani.