The old Rory McIlroy wouldn't be a story this Thursday at Valhalla. The pre-2014 McIlroy would have let the middle of his round on day one trip him up, ruin his card, doom his week and force him to another disappointing major championship.
McIlroy might only be 25, but he's changed, and it has never been more apparent than on Thursday at the PGA Championship when a quick swing on the 10th got away from him and went out of bounds on a hole that nobody hits it out of bounds on. It was one of the few bad swings Rory has made the last month, but it was bad, and his solid opening round was in jeopardy.
Rory made a double-bogey there, and missed a short par putt on the 11th to drop back to even par, six back of the lead and in trouble of falling victim to that old adage, "you can't win a golf tournament on Thursday but you can sure lose it," especially considering how many red numbers were already on the leaderboard.
But that was when the bleeding stopped. McIlroy made a birdie on No. 12, one of the toughest holes on the golf course, and followed it up with another birdie at 13. And another. And another. And just like that, McIlroy had not only made up the shots he dropped when he started his back nine, but did them one better.
It was what happened after that that really showed what this new Rory McIlroy is about. He didn't birdie the par-4 16th, just missing on the high side and his reaction wasn't one of "awww, shucks," it was a kid who really believed he could birdie out the rest of his round.
Why not, right? He just watched Sergio Garcia do something similar a week ago at the Bridgestone Invitational. And Rory's birdie putt on the 17th nearly dropped and he again looked frustrated, like a man that only has one gear and can't understand another way to drive.
The way McIlroy is hitting the golf ball right now makes any golf course a par-68. There is no such thing as a par-5 to a guy that hits it 330 yards down the middle of every fairway, and despite those troubles in the middle of the round, he still found a way to fire a low number and sit just one shot back of the leaders after day one.
For the rest of the field, it was probably a welcome sight to see this young man miss a golf shot that bad and card a score that high. For the last two tournaments, a major and a World Golf Championships event, there weren't many moments of trouble for the No. 1 player in the world.
The only problem for the field is he hasn't hit a shot like that in a month, and even with a bad swing and a loss of focus, he's one shot back at the PGA Championship after one day and probably won't hit another one like that the rest of the week.
Rory McIlroy is on a mission and after one day at Valhalla, it looks like the final leg of this incredible run isn't far from his grasp.
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