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Can Rory McIlroy make headlines for the right reasons at 2024 PGA Championship? TV pundits weigh in

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Just two days after picking up his 26th career PGA Tour title at the Wells Fargo Championship, Rory McIlroy made headlines on Tuesday for the wrong reason – filing for divorce from his wife of seven years citing the marriage as “irretrievably broken,” requesting “shared parental responsibility” of their daughter, Poppy, and “establishing a parental plan, including a timesharing schedule.”

McIlroy released a statement through his manager saying he would not be making any comments about his private life and the closest he came to answering a question on the subject during his pre-tournament press conference on Wednesday ahead of the 106th PGA Championship asked him about his energy levels and, on a personal level, how he was doing?

“I’m ready to play this week,” he said before moving on.

McIlroy, who turned 35 last week, has made plenty of headlines between being embroiled in PGA Tour policy board politics and serving as a de facto spokesman for the PGA Tour in its fight with LIV Golf, but the one headline he hasn’t made for a nearly a decade is as a major champion. It was at the 2014 PGA Championship here at Valhalla Golf Club in August that McIlroy captured his second Wanamaker Trophy and fourth major title. He was 25, the third-youngest to win four major titles since 1900 (Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus), the No. 1 player in the world, and his future seemed boundless.

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“I thought at that point in time that we might see Rory win 10 major championships. He had limitless ability, unbelievable length, could do everything, and was making it look really easy,” said ESPN’s Andy North. “Life changes. You get married. You have kids. You have other business obligations. Your focus becomes not as singular on golf as it should be, and every single good player has gone through that. Rory has had an amazing career. I personally thought that he might win more than he has, which that’s scary because he’s won plenty.”

During the 35 major starts since his last win, McIlroy has recorded 20 top-10 finishes including 10 appearances in the top five, the most of any player in the last decade.

“To not at the very least fall into one is unfathomable,” said CBS Sports lead analyst Trevor Immelman.

When McIlroy left the PGA Championship a year ago after finishing seventh, his confidence was shot. The cameras for the Netflix documentary “Full Swing” captured McIlroy in an uncharacteristic fit of rage in the locker room.

“My technique is nowhere near as good as it used to be. I almost feel like I wanna do a complete reboot … It’s the only way I feel like I’m gonna break through,” McIlroy complained to his manager and caddie.

Speaking on Wednesday during his press conference, he said, “I felt like my game wasn’t in really good shape after Oak Hill. Sort of needed to reset, work on a few things.”

Rory McIlroy works out on the driving range during a practice round of the 2023 PGA Championship golf tournament at Oak Hill Country Club. (Photo: Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports)

One year later, McIlroy’s game is in a much better place. The world No. 2 was a non-factor in his latest quest to complete the career Grand Slam at the Masters in April, but enters the PGA having teamed with Shane Lowry to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and winning last week in Charlotte with a closing 65 to blow past 54-hole leader Xander Schauffele. The last time McIlroy played here he was oozing confidence, having won his two previous starts heading into the PGA, and that symmetry hasn’t gone unnoticed.

McIlroy, for one, downplayed the significance of his success here 10 years ago and what it could mean for his bid to win a fifth major title.

“It’s hard to rekindle those feelings and those memories. I can vaguely remember, you know, coming here off the back of winning The Open and the old WGC at Akron,” he said. “But you know, I think it’s all about confidence and momentum, and I have a lot of confidence and quite a bit of momentum coming into this week.”

McIlroy said that he’s found a driver he loves and his tee game has been as good as ever. That should come in handy at a big, brawny course softened by recent rainstorms like Valhalla.

“I think this is a golf course that allows you to play with freedom because it’s a big golf course. The corridors are wide, not too dissimilar to last week at Quail Hollow, so you can open your shoulders up off the tee and try to take your chances from there,” he said.

If McIlroy can quiet all the noise in his life and find safe harbor between the ropes and keep playing with the swagger of the Summer of 2014, he could finally capture that elusive fifth major. ESPN’s Curtis Strange tabbed it a big week for McIlroy.

“If he could win a major championship, then the energy that it would create within him to do more might be phenomenal,” he said.

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