Major or no major, Rory McIlroy believes there is a line you do not cross, regardless of your ambition in any given week. The Northern Irishman re-emphasised his belief on Sunday night by calling out Brooks Koepka for disrespectful “mind games” against Dustin Johnson before the final round of the 102nd USPGA Championship. Koepka was on the first hole at Harding Park and trying to become the first player to win three strokeplay Wanamaker Trophies when McIlroy made his comments. After his 68 to close on two under, McIlroy was asked what he thought about Koepka’s sideswipe at his Ryder Cup team-mate the previous evening, saying that “he’s only won one”. Koepka also implied that Johnson had found the second major the hardest to win. “I was watching the golf last night and heard the [Koepka] interview and was just sort of taken aback a little bit by what he said and whether he was trying to play mind games or not – if he’s trying to play mind games, he’s trying to do it to the wrong person,” McIlroy said. “It’s a very different mentality to bring to golf that I don’t think a lot of golfers have. Just different. I try to respect everyone out here. Everyone is a great player. If you’ve won a major, you’re a hell of a player.” Then McIlroy delivered his own biting barb towards Koepka. “It’s sort of hard to knock a guy that’s got 21 wins on the PGA Tour, which is three times as many as Brooks,” McIlroy said. Koepka has a burgeoning reputation as an elite golfer willing to put down his peers. Apart from his many jibes at Bryson DeChambeau, Koepka was dismissive last year when asked if he felt there was a rivalry between him and McIlroy. “I’ve been out here for, what, five years – Rory hasn’t won a major since I’ve been on the PGA Tour,” Koepka said. ”So I just don’t view it as a rivalry.” McIlroy shrugged it off at the time, but was known privately to be unimpressed. In some ways McIlroy’s attitude towards Koepka’s irreverence is curious seeing as he, himself, declared that the European golfers such as Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari were wrong to skip the early PGA Tour restart events following lockdown and stated they should be there “if they cared about their careers”. Except McIlroy did not name anyone directly and climbed down from those comments recently. There is plainly a distaste of Koepka’s discourtesy. As it was, it was another quote in McIlroy’s post-major press conference on Sunday night that will make the eyebrows rise the most in some quarters. Monday is the six-year anniversary of the 31-year-old’s last major win – the 2014 US PGA win. He was quizzed by an Irish journalist “why you find it’s difficult to hang around for 54, 63 holes in recent seasons compared to say earlier in your career?” McIlroy replied: “Maybe I’m just not as good as I used to be. I don’t know.” The world No 3 was being prickly and does not truly believe that. “I feel like the golf that I’ve played in the majors has been sort of similar to the golf I’ve played outside of them, and I’ve won some big events and played well and had a good season last year,” McIlroy said. “I can’t really put my finger on it. I go out there and try my best every single day. Some days I play better than others, and I just have to keep going and keep persisting and see if you can do better the next time.” It was a legitimate query on the reporter’s behalf. Something is plainly missing when it comes to the majors for McIlroy, seeing as he won four by the age of 25 and all too often it is slow starts and/or sloppy errors at crucial times. This was a satisfactory end to his San Francisco quest, but a finishing time before the leaders had even teed-off obviously fell far short of what he expects. For now, McIlroy is simply trying to rediscover the consistency that saw him chalk up seven successive PGA Tour top-fives before the coronavirus hooter sounded. In his six events since the resumption, McIlroy has not recorded a single top-10 finish and only one top 20. “This was one of the tougher tests that we’ve faced since coming back, together with the Memorial a few weeks ago,” he said. “I’ve sort of gauged those two events as the barometer of where my game is, and I’m going to pretty much finish in the same spot around 30th. There’s been enough good stuff in there, I’m just making a few too many mistakes. Try to clean that up going forward.”
Whatever else Rory McIlroy gets to take away from the 102nd USPGA Championship there is no doubt that his reputation will only be enhanced among the golfing purists. You can say what you like about the Northern Irishman's competitive attitude — and many do and will — but there surely cannot be any questioning his approach to what he regards as proper sportsmanship in the game he adores. McIlroy is in the Bobby Jones school of thought when it comes to the rulebook. The greatest amateur of all time famously declared at the 1925 US Open “you may as well praise me for not robbing a bank” after he was hailed for calling a penalty on himself that only he knew about. It cost Jones the title to Scotland’s Willie Macfarlane. Round two report: Fleetwood's 64 takes him to touching distance of lead When quizzed about his own moment of honour during Friday’s second round at Harding Park, San Francisco, McIlroy seemed similarly nonplussed. Except, his actions could even be classed as more principled than those of Jones. Because here was a golfer who deliberately gave himself a worse lie to the one chosen by a referee. The incident occurred on the par-three third, after the world No 3 had sliced his tee shot into the thick rough. A search ensued, during which an on-course ESPN reporter unwittingly stepped on McIlroy’s ball. Under the recently introduced Rule 7.4, McIlroy was allowed to re-place it, without penalty, based on an “estimate” of where it was initially. The rules official pointed to an appropriate area where McIlroy duly placed his ball. McIlroy was free to go and try to save par. Except he was not comfortable and said to the referee: “It would not have been as visible as that.” So he bent down and buried it a little further in the cabbage. The best he could manage from that lie was a pitch to within 22 feet, from where he two-putted for a bogey. Suddenly, the clapping emoji appeared all over social media and four hours later, when he could eventually explain his thought process, he was still being congratulated. “I just wouldn't have felt comfortable,” McIlroy said after signing for a 69. “I placed it, and the rule is try to replicate the lie. No one really knew what the lie was, but if everyone is going around looking for it, it obviously wasn't too good. So I placed it, I was like, that just doesn't look right to me. So I just placed it down a little bit. “You know, at the end of the day, golf is a game of integrity and I never try to get away with anything out there. I'd rather be on the wrong end of the rules rather than on the right end.” The proceedings were reminiscent of Darren Clarke at the 2006 Irish Open. Leading by two when play was called for bad weather on the Sunday evening, Clarke returned the next morning to the spot on the ninth where his ball had finished after a wayward drive moments before the hooter had sounded. Lo and behold, the leprechauns had been at work overnight and what was a poor lie was now so decent that the crowd favourite could reach the green. But Clarke refused to accept his good fortune electing to chip it out into the fairway instead. "That's part and parcel of the game,” he later said after finishing third being his great friend Thomas Bjorn. “It was a much better lie than when I left it. I had the opportunity to hit it on to the green, but my conscience wouldn't allow that.” Of course, Clarke was something of a mentor to McIlroy and the protege will certainly recall the episode. Like now, the sanctity of the rulebook was under the spotlight at the time with a few high-profile affairs, including Colin Montgomerie’s notorious drop in Jakarta the previous year. McIlroy’s rectitude occurred a week after Bryson DeChambeau shamelessly tried to bend the rulebook in his favour by claiming that his ball was near an anthill and as they were red ants, it was a “dangerous situation” and he was entitled to relief under Rule 16: "Relief from Abnormal Course Conditions (Including Immovable Obstructions), Dangerous Animal Condition, Embedded Ball.” Two weeks before that, at The Memorial, DeChambeau was heard criticising “another garbage ruling” when insisting to a referee — who, as, fate would have it was the same official as in the fire-ant farce — that he was entitled to play a shot that was resting against an out-of-bounds fence. He obviously was not and annoyed the locker room, by calling for a second ruling. The next referee summarily dismissed DeChambeau’s argument. There have also been mutterings on the range concerning DeChambeau’s dropping “technique” on his way to that almost comical 10 at Muirfield Village. In the new rules, designed in part to quicken up the pace of play, golfers are required to come as close as possible to the original spot within a club length. That can be up to four feet and advantages can inevitably be found in such an area, if the player is willing to exploit this loophole. Was all this on McIlroy’s mind? We might never know, for sure, but we can hazard an accurate guess. As it was, McIlroy goes out in the third round on Saturday on one-under, seven behind the leader China’s Haotong Li, with England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose in a group in second, two off the pace. DeChambeau was on two-under.
BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) -- A'ja Wilson scored 31 points and her short shot with seven seconds lifted the Las Vegas Aces past the New York Liberty 78-76 on Sunday.