Tuesday 18 May 2021 5:35 pm

Sam Torrance: History and form point to Rory McIlroy as US PGA Championship returns to demanding but exciting Kiawah Island

The US PGA Championship doesn’t need any extra spice but the return to form of Rory McIlroy has provided it anyway.

McIlroy won this tournament by eight shots the last time it was held at this week’s venue, Kiawah Island, in 2012.

So, having ended an 18-month drought with victory at the Wells Fargo Championship earlier this month, all eyes will be on whether he can now add a fifth major.

McIlroy’s landslide win here nine years ago means he is returning to a course with fantastic memories for him.

In the overall picture, that eight-shot triumph is more significant than his recent upturn in fortunes.

However, his win at Quail Hollow a fortnight ago will have come as a wonderful relief to the former world No1.

The manner of the victory was important, too. He stood up to everybody and faced them down. 

You couldn’t ask for more on the eve of a major and I’m sure it will have done wonders for his state of mind.

It is all linked: McIlroy’s recent form has shown flashes of his best, and that in turn will have lit up his memories of winning the US PGA here in 2012.

Of course, majors bring their own unique pressures, but Rory loves that; it’s what he lives for.

Stars struggling for form going into US PGA

The form of the other contenders at the top of the world rankings, meanwhile, has caved in.

Dustin Johnson has a missed cut and just one top 20 finish in his last six tournaments.

Justin Thomas has just one top 20 place since winning The Players Championship in March. 

Jon Rahm has been consistent – barring his last two outings – but hasn’t won since August.

Xander Schauffele started the year well but, again, his last title came in 2020.

Defending champion Collin Morikawa is the exception, with a WGC win and three more top 10 finishes. 

But he will not know Kiawah Island, a very demanding and fabulously exciting course where the value of prior experience cannot be overstated.

McIlroy swpet to an eight-shot victory when the US PGA was last held at the South Carolina course nine years ago
McIlroy swpet to an eight-shot victory when the US PGA was last held at the South Carolina course nine years ago (Getty Images)

When you think of links golf, you think of Muirfield, Turnberry, Birkdale and Hoylake. In some ways it’s hard to square putting Kiawah Island in that bracket.

Facing the Atlantic, this is a seaside course, so it is links golf. But it is lusher than other links and perhaps not as severe.

If the weather is bad at the US PGA this week it could be very tough but in calmer conditions it is gettable.

McIlroy not the only resurgent major winner

Although European players fared well here in 2012, I’m not sure it’s a course that favours them.

Still, there are a few more who could challenge, including Viktor Hovland, who arrives on the back of consecutive top three finishes.

Tommy Fleetwood loves seaside conditions so he’ll relish this course. Ian Poulter tied for third here last time. Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick deserve a mention.

McIlroy is not the only multiple major winner to have recovered their form after a fallow spell, however.

Jordan Spieth won for the first time since 2017 last month and has prevailed on some of the hardest links courses around.

You need a good short game for that and Spieth’s is God-given. 

Still, McIlroy has to be the favourite when play begins in South Carolina on Thursday. 

His history in the US PGA at this venue and his return to the winners’ circle means he won’t fly under the radar.

But it could be that his work with coach Pete Cowen is starting to pay off, and if that is the case then who knows what we could see next. 

Sam Torrance OBE is a multiple Ryder Cup-winning golfer and media commentator. Follow him on Twitter @torrancesam.

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