Louisville, Ky. • Anyone could see Rory McIlroy had the gifts to be the next big thing in golf.
His victory in the PGA Championship was more about grit.
That might be more impressive than some of the numbers associated with his latest major. McIlroy has won his four majors at a combined 62-under par. The only other players in the last century to win four majors 25 or younger were Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Jones. It had been six years since anyone won two straight majors (Padraig Harrington) or three straight tournaments (Woods).
"It’s beginning to look a little Tigeresque, I supposed," Graeme McDowell said. "I said to the boys at The Open I didn’t think we were going to see the new Tiger era just yet. I’m not eating my words, but I’m certainly starting to chew on them right now."
After Sunday, what McIlroy carries with him is the belief that he can battle back just as easily as he can blow away a field.
Boy Wonder can make the game look easy, even in the majors. He was eight shots ahead at Congressional going into the last day and he set the U.S. Open scoring record on a rain-softened course in 2011. He was three ahead at Kiawah Island going into the last round of the 2012 PGA Championship when he won by a record eight shots. And he had a six-shot lead Sunday when he polished off that wire-to-wire win at the British Open last month.
So he was in foreign territory standing in the 10th fairway at Valhalla on Sunday. He watched from 281 yards away as Rickie Fowler poured in a 30-foot birdie putt that put McIlroy three shots behind with nine holes to play.
But he rallied, and this was the most satisfying major for McIlroy because he had to work the hardest. The 25-year-old from Northern Ireland was developing a stereotype as a player who would only win in soft conditions with a comfortable lead.
"It means that I know that I can do it. I know that I can come from behind," McIlroy said. "Phil Mickelson, the second-best player in this era, to be able to beat him on the back nine Sunday, it’s great to have in the memory bank and great to have going forward."
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