It’s possible Rory McIlroy won’t win the PGA Championship on Sunday at Valhalla. Sooner or later an Austrian not named Franz Klammer is going to win a major championship and maybe it’s Bernd Wiesberger’s time.
Maybe it’s finally Rickie Fowler’s time or Jason Day’s or Phil Mickelson’s.
But it feels like McIlroy’s time in ways both immediate and expansive. McIlroy is 18 holes away from completing a three-tournament run that rivals anything golf has seen since Tiger Woods had a healthy back.
What McIlroy is showing us is a thing of beauty.
“I’m loving it,” McIlroy said early Saturday evening when asked about his position atop another leader board. “It’s where I want to be. It’s the best place to be in a golf tournament.”
Valhalla may not be everyone’s idea of a great golf course – the front nine is uninspiring – but it’s producing the best major championship leader board this year.
“This one’s out there for the taking for sure,” said Fowler, who starts the final round two behind McIlroy.
It’s because a lot of guys are playing well at the moment, and PGA of America officials aren’t afraid to let them make birdies. Valhalla, which means muddy shoes, is defenseless after two days of rain, allowing players to be aggressive rather than defensive.
That plays to McIlroy’s strengths. When he’s driving the ball the way he has been for several weeks, he puts everyone at a disadvantage.
“You just have to respect how good he plays,” Kaymer said.
McIlroy is 18 holes away from his fourth major championship before his 26th birthday. It makes Jack Nicklaus’recent comment that he thinks McIlroy could win “15 or 20” major championships sound reasonable.
Still, McIlroy has to make it happen Sunday.
Wiesberger is the wild card, given his lack of experience in major championships. Mickelson keeps talking about having a really low round in him, and he’ll need it to win.
Then there’s Fowler, who has tied for second in the last two major championships after a tie for fifth in the Masters. Should he finish in the top-five today, he will join Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to post four top-five finishes in major championships in the same season.
“It’s going to be a fun walk (with playing partner Phil Mickelson), and there’s a possibility if we get things going, it could come down to the two of us at the end,” Fowler said.
It sets up as a potentially spellbinding finish to a tournament dominated for three days by Tiger Woods, whose name never made an appearance on the leader board. From the moment Woods arrived at Valhalla early Wednesday afternoon, it seemed he was at the center of an uncertain universe.
His game looked sloppy when he shot 74 on Thursday, spraying tee shots left and right, giving a demonstration of golf’s hated two-way miss, which is golfspeak for not knowing where your tee shots are going.
On Friday, Woods shot the same score, but it looked and felt worse. His latest back issue, the one he says isn’t related to the surgery he had in late March, resurfaced during his warm-up session before the second round, and he was done.
This year, a wince on his face has replaced a fist pump as his signature image. He was reduced to swinging at less than full power just to finish what became his final round on the PGA Tour for the 2014 season.
Leaning on a podium early Friday evening, Woods said he needs to strengthen his core again, and it will take care of his issues. If it’s that simple, Woods will put in the gym time. But he’s 38 going on 39 and didn’t sound like a man trying to be funny when he said, “I’ve felt old for a long time.”
The question is what happens next for Tiger.
At Valhalla, the question is what happens Sunday. It doesn’t lack for possibilities.