All it took was one word for Rory McIlroy to sum up his Friday rebound at the PGA Championship.
The two-time PGA titleholder and four-time major winner appeared headed for a flight back to Florida when he stood at 7 over par with six holes left in his second round. Some ugly drives, unwise decisions and putts that ignored the hole put him in that precarious position.
Then he turned things around.
“Pride. Just pride,” McIlory said as rain began falling at Bethpage Black. His four birdies in the final five holes lifted him to 3 over, projected to be good enough to make the cut. “Just trying to play a good round of golf and try to get something that’s close to the best out of myself. And, yeah, I don’t like missing cuts. It’s not something that I’m used to, fortunately, and I wanted to be around for the weekend.
“And at least if you’re around for the weekend, you can go out there and maybe shoot a good one tomorrow and at least give yourself half a chance.”
McIlroy looked to have no chance when he left the 3rd green — he started on the back nine. But he’d told his caddie, Harry Diamond, that if he could match his opening 72, at least he would have made a run at sticking around.
When he went one better, McIlory had every reason to be pleased with his rally.
“A very bad start, obviously,” he said, recalling a poor drive on No. 10 that he compounded with bad choices on the next few shots to open with a double bogey. He then bogeyed 11 and doubled again on 12.
“I didn’t feel like I hit that bad (of) shots, maybe I made bad decisions. I couldn’t let my head get down. I grinded, tried to stay as basic as I could.”
A birdie on No. 13 was a short respite before another bogey on 15. A string of six pars made a huge difference in his psyche if not his scorecard, and then came the birdie binge that saved McIlroy’s tournament.
“Oh, yeah, I was 4 over through Boston a couple years ago and ended up winning the tournament, and that just sort of came back into my mind after I made that start,” he said. “So in a way it’s calming. I’ve been in this position before and I’ve been able to come back. Or you go back to Birkdale a couple years ago where I was 4 over through five or 5 over through six and shoot 71 and all of a sudden finish, you know, had half a chance on the back nine that day.
“So it’s not as if I haven’t been in those positions before, it’s just a matter of not pressing too much and staying patient and letting the good golf sort of come through. Took a while today, but it eventually got here.”
McIlory got to the top of golf by the time he was 22. After his famous Masters meltdown on the back nine of the final round in 2011, he won the U.S. Open. He added the PGA Championship that year, then doubled up in a major way again in 2014 at the British Open and PGA.
He has been playing well this year, with a victory at The Players Championship. But he also has had at least one major in the last three years in which he missed the cut. And he has finished closer than five shots of the lead at a major only one time — last year’s British Open at Carnoustie — since his second PGA triumph.
His turnaround Friday should be uplifting.
“I needed one putt to go in,” he said. “From there, I started to play good golf. I figured sooner or later they’d drop.”
Just in time, they did.