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Rory McIlroy PGA Championship 2014

Can Rory finally scratch his 10-year major itch?

A decade after the PGA at Valhalla, who would have thought that Rory McIlroy would still be waiting to add to his tally of big four titles?

 

As the flash bulbs popped in the Kentucky darkness, Rory McIlroy – with Wanamaker Trophy in hand – was the dominating force in golf.

Four majors in, having won the last two back-to-back, here was the heir apparent to Tiger Woods. A charismatic character with the game to match.

How many would he win? How close to Tiger could he get? It seemed a limitless question. Few observers would have dared predict, a decade later, he would have failed to add another to his tally.

Now, 10 years after winning the PGA Championship at Valhalla, Rory is still waiting, still hoping, and still chasing another major title.

Why has he not been able to scratch the itch? Does expectation, especially at Augusta National, weigh heavy?

McIlroy rightly believes he should be competing at every major. Some of the emotional post-round press conferences we’ve seen down the years, plus behind the scenes footage, suggests a player who, at times, can get in his own way.

Luck has also played a part.

Rory was superlative at St Andrews during the 150th Open and did everything required. A steady final round on the Old Course would probably have got the job done in any other year – except for 2022 when Cameron Smith went on a remarkable five-birdie spree on the back nine.

One wedge shot, a slight mis-time and an unexpected breath of wind stymied him at the worst time – the 14th hole at LA Country Club – when he was going head-to-head with Wyndham Clark at the US Open in 2023.

But such is the variance that can swallow you whole when you try to direct a small ball around a big field.

rory mcilroy majors

Rory McIlroy majors: Distractions and near-misses

There have also been distractions. McIlroy has talked about trying not to get fixated on vibes and feelings. But he’s dabbled in politics, becoming the de facto PGA Tour spokesperson in the battle with LIV Golf only to feel like it was all slapped back in his face.

He remains always willing to answer a question and refreshingly honest, no matter what headlines it produces.

Despite these knocks, though, he keeps banging on the door. On five occasions in the last six years, twice at the US Open, twice at The Open, and once at The Masters, the trophies have fallen tantalisingly from his reach as he was on the cusp of grasping them.

Since winning the PGA Championship in 2014, McIlroy has posted 20 top 10s in majors – 10 of which were top fives.

“Every time I tee it up, or most times I tee it up, I’m right there,” he said following The Open at Hoylake last summer. “I can’t sit here and be too frustrated. You think about my performances in the majors between 2016 and 2019, it’s a lot better than that.”

After the narrow squeak at LA Country Club, he explained: “The last real two chances I’ve had at majors I feel like have been pretty similar performances, like St Andrews last year and then here.

“Not doing a lot wrong, but I didn’t make a birdie since the first hole. Just trying to be a little more efficient with my opportunities and my looks.

“Again, overall, when you’re in contention going into the final round of a US Open, I played the way I wanted to play. There was just a couple of shots, two or three shots over the course of the round that I’d like to have back.”

McIlroy, at 34, is still in his prime. He is a mesmeric driver but an average putter – by tour standards. He has never been lower than 6th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained off the tee but averages around 81st in putting.

He can be erratic around the green – he was 113th in strokes gained prior to the Wells Fargo Championship – but, except for the early part of this season, has generally been more consistent in the last few years in strokes gained approaching the green.

rory mcilroy majors

Rory McIlroy majors: Where will it end?

One normal week off the tee, one average week around the greens and one better week with the putter, and surely the hurdles come tumbling down.

So could the drought end in 2024, and where?

With the Masters slipping by again, McIlroy has obviously won at Valhalla – the site of this year’s PGA Championship – and posted a top 25 finish when Martin Kaymer streaked to victory at Pinehurst No. 2. Again, the US Open returns to the place it was staged in 2014.

Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson dominated the rest of the field at Royal Troon in 2016, but Rory’s best round of the week (67) came on Sunday and his performances in the year’s final major – five top six finishes in the last eight – should dispel any thoughts that links golf conditions might be a disadvantage.

And in public, at least, McIlroy refuses to get downhearted.

“You’re going into your 10th year now without a major,” he was asked at Royal Liverpool. “Is that just what negative people like me think or do you not think that way?”

“I don’t think that way,” he replied. “I just keep looking forward.”

But until he breaks that duck, he’ll have to deal with expectation and he’ll probably have to handle more disappointment.

“I’m wondering,” he was asked after another major near miss, “if it gets exhausting to have to answer those kinds of things?”

McIlroy said: “It is, but at the same time, when I do finally win this next major, it’s going to be really, really sweet. I would go through 100 Sundays like this to get my hands on another major championship.”

Now have your say

What do you think of the Rory McIlroy major finishes struggle? Is this the year the drought comes to an end? Or is he destined to suffer further anguish and disappointment in golf’s biggest events? Let me know what you think by leaving me a comment on X.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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