Rory McIlroy has been looking forward to this week’s US PGA Championship at Quail Hollow since the moment that the North Carolina club was announced as the venue for the season’s final Major.
McIlroy has a fantastic record at the Charlotte course, where he memorably claimed his first win in the United States in 2010 after shooting a sensational closing round of 62.
He won the Wells Fargo Championship there in 2015, carding a new course record round of 61 along the way, and made a play-off in 2012 – the start of a five-year sequence in which he never finished outside the top 10 at the tournament.
Naturally the course will be set up differently for the US PGA, but McIlroy still benefits from all the positive feelings he has accumulated there over the years and will return full of confidence.
The Northern Irishman is yet to win this year and hasn’t added to his four Majors since 2014 but showed at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at the weekend, where he could not buy a putt yet still finished in a tie for fifth, that he is extremely close.
It was a similar story at the Open last month, where McIlroy tied for fourth despite a dreadful start. His driving is spectacular and he is punishing golf courses; he just needs to finish it off.
I feel like I have been saying it for a while, but I really think this could be Rory’s week.
McIlroy won’t need any more motivation but winning the US PGA would also prevent Jordan Spieth from beating him to the career grand slam.
It would certainly be a feather in the cap for Spieth, whose dramatic Open win at Royal Birkdale set up the chance to complete the set of all four Majors in the order in which they fall in the calendar.
McIlroy is only an elusive Masters triumph away from the career grand slam and I expect it is a matter of time before both he and Spieth achieve it, although it is worth remembering that some greats, such as Phil Mickelson and even Sam Snead, do not.
Looking at the rest of the field, Brooks Koepka has gone off the boil a little since winning his first Major at the US Open earlier this summer, last year’s Open champion Henrik Stenson and world No1 Dustin Johnson have not looked on their games and Jon Rahm has been a bit disappointing by his own high standards lately.
Jason Day, US PGA champion two years ago, has shown glimpses of a return to form, while Rickie Fowler is a former winner at Quail Hollow – he beat McIlroy and DA Points in that 2012 play-off – and is now on that list of great players still to win a Major. Perhaps this will be his chance.
For me, however, there is one more obvious contender in Hideki Matsuyama, fresh from a stunning triumph at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday.
The Japanese 25-year-old’s closing round of 61 was as good as it gets and gave him a sixth title from his last 20 tournaments.
Matsuyama heads to Quail Hollow in red-hot form, so he joins McIlroy and Spieth in my three to watch.