Rory McIlroy is happy with his game after the PGA Championship, and one unfortunate shot won’t change that.
The defending champion tied for eighth, seven strokes behind winner Jason Dufner, by far his best showing at a major this year.
In a season without any titles, he gave himself an outside shot at victory with two late birdies Saturday. And as McIlroy stood on the fourth green Sunday, that chance didn’t look so crazy. He had a 4-foot birdie putt that would have moved him to 5 under, but he missed it.
Hope wasn’t lost as he hit his drive on the par-4 fifth hole into the fairway. All it took was one swing of the club for that to change.
McIlroy’s second shot hit the green, but it trickled back down the slope and onto the rocks. In a hazard, McIlroy had to take a penalty drop, and things didn’t get any better from there.
His fourth shot from 80 yards sailed over the green. His chip reached only the collar. His putt from 20 feet just missed, and when McIlroy tapped in, he had a triple-bogey 7 and had tumbled back to 1 under.
”I hit a good shot,” he said. ”I did exactly what I wanted to do, but it was in the exact wrong place. But everything else feels pretty good.”
McIlroy briefly returned to 4 under with birdies on the ninth, 10th and 13th before bogeying No. 16. He had made a 15-foot birdie on the third hole to first get to 4 under.
McIlroy finished with a 70 to close the tournament at 3 under.
Considering McIlroy was in danger of missing the cut midway through the second round, the PGA could go down as the moment that he rediscovered his game and his optimism. The FedEx Cup playoffs will offer a chance to prove this week was a turnaround, not a fluke.
Koepka’s new neighborhood
Brooks Koepka lives down the road from Tiger Woods, though the two don’t usually run into each other on the course.
The 23-year-old American chose Europe’s Challenge Tour as his route to golf’s top levels. He earned promotion to the European Tour in June.
With a special exemption from the PGA of America, he teed off in this week’s PGA Championship and made the cut at a major for the first time in three tries. Grabbing a bite to eat after his third round Saturday, he saw on TV that Tiger Woods was at 4 under, the same score as Koepka. He hoped it stayed that way so the two could play together in the final round.
Sure enough, Koepka got to meet Woods for the first time on the putting green Sunday before they played 18 holes together. Koepka shot a 7-over 77, while Woods had a 70.
”I think everyone my age admired him growing up,” said Koepka, who went to Florida State. ”He’s the reason I’m playing. It was a bunch of fun to play with him. Nice guy. Hell of a player.”
New to the experience of the large crowds hovering off every shot of Woods’ group, Koepka bogeyed three of his first four holes then made a triple bogey on No. 5.
”It’s hard that first tee,” he said. ”That was pretty neat. Just hearing everybody, it was unbelievable the people shouting his name. Obviously, I have seen it growing up and things like that, but when you are actually out there it was definitely a little different.”
Koepka made the turn at 8 over for the day, but he settled down on the back nine with two birdies and just one bogey.
”Obviously I didn’t play the way I wanted to, got off to a little bit of a shaky start,” he said. ”A little bit of adrenaline going.”
Koepka lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and is considering joining Woods’ home club, The Medalist, a topic they chatted about on the course Sunday. Koepka had seen the world’s top-ranked golfer at the club a couple of times in the past, but ”obviously he had no clue who I am.”
Now he knows.
”Really talented. Good kid,” Woods said.
”It’s good to see,” he added about Koepka’s ascension to the European Tour. ”Good, old-fashioned work pays off, and he should be proud of it.”
Mickelson wraps up
Three weeks ago, Phil Mickelson was introduced as the ”champion golfer of the year” after winning the British Open. On Sunday, he finished the PGA Championship with little fanfare after rallying for a 72 to finish at the bottom of the pack.
”I didn’t play very well the last two weeks. I’m not going to worry about it,” Mickelson said.
Mickelson was thrilling as always. During a six-hole stretch on the front nine, he had one par, one bogey, one double bogey, one triple bogey and two birdies. He played the back nine with two birdies and no bogeys.
Lefty was headed home to San Diego to tinker with his short game, otherwise take five days off and then start hitting balls to get ready for the FedEx Cup playoffs. They start at Liberty National and TPC Boston, and Mickelson said he would have a driver in the bag for both tournaments. He had been using only a strong 3-wood.