Rory McIlroy is “excited” at the prospect of a three-month break to focus on his health and his game, even though it means he’ll miss the European Tour’s season finale.
“I’m excited for it,” McIlroy said Wednesday on the eve of the Northern Trust — the first of four tournaments in the US PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs.
“To have three months where I can focus on myself, my health, my game and just improvement — I don’t think I’m ever going to get a chance like this in my career again where I get this opportunity to take three months to re-evaluate things.”
McIlroy continues to battle the after-effects of a broken rib suffered early in the season.
Although the rib has healed, he said a ligament where the rib attaches to his spine has “become quite lax” leading to inflammation in his back.
“It’s something that I’m going to have to address,” McIlroy said. “If I manage it over these next few weeks, I can’t do any damage to it.”
That fact helped him make up his mind to tackle the FedEx Cup playoffs. He had said after finishing 22nd in the PGA Championship this month that he might take off the rest of the season.
Instead he’s hoping he can replicate his FedEx Cup performance of last season, when he came into the playoffs ranked 36th and without a US win in 2016 and went on to win the series.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I had a chance. I’m here and I know I’ve done it before, and hopefully I can give myself a chance to do it again,” he said.
Once the four PGA Tour playoff events are over, McIlroy said, he’ll play the Dunhill Links Championship in October and step away until 2018.
That rules him out of three elite European Rolex Series events and the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in November.
“I feel like it’s a tremendous opportunity to improve as a golfer and with my health and with everything,” he said. “I’ve already sat down with the team and we have a three-month plan going forward.”
Two spectacular birdies in the last six holes brought Justin Thomas his first major title, the 14th-ranked American taking the PGA Championship on Sunday in a back-nine shootout thriller.
On a day that saw five players share the lead at one stage, Thomas fired a three-under par 68 to finish 72 holes on eight-under par 276 for a two-stroke victory over South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, Italy’s Francesco Molinari and American Patrick Reed.
“I knew know matter what my game was at I had to be patient,” Thomas said. “I knew I had the game to get it done. I just had to put it out there.”
Thomas rolled in an amazing 40-foot chip shot at the par-3 13th for a two-stroke lead and curled a 14-foot putt into the left side of the cup to birdie the par-3 17th for a three-shot edge, making a closing bogey all-but irrelevant.
“To make a birdie there was beyond a bonus,” Thomas said of 17. “And 13 was really special as well.”
Thomas, 24, claimed the Wanamaker Trophy and grabs the top prize of $1.89 million (1.59 million euros) for his fourth victory of the season after last year’s CIMB Classic in Malaysia and two January events in Hawaii, the Tournament of Champions and Sony Open.
World number three Hideki Matsuyama, trying to become Japan’s first men’s major golf champion, led at the turn but had five bogeys and three birdies on the back nine to share fifth with US star Rickie Fowler on 279.
“The course played tough. The pins were receptive, though. I was just disappointed the way I played,” Matsuyama said.
“The last major of the year, and I was in contention. All I can do is just try harder next time.”
Canada’s Graham DeLaet and 54-hole leader Kevin Kisner were another shot back.
Thomas sandwiched a birdie between two bogeys on the first three holes, but bounced back with birdies at seven, nine and 10 — the last after his putt hung on the edge of the cup for nearly 10 seconds before falling in.
“It just kind of snuck up on the hole,” Thomas said. “It kind of acted like a child and threw a tantrum and then it went in.”
One by one, rivals fell aside, the last being compatriot Kisner, whose 209-yard eagle longshot from the 18th fairway to force a playoff landed in a creek.
“It was a crazy day,” Thomas said. “It had to be an unbelievable day spectating.”
Matsuyama sank a 22-foot birdie putt at the par-5 10th but made bogeys on the next three holes, responded with two birdies, then missed a four-foot par putt to bogey 16 and closed with another to fall back.
Oosthuizen, the only major winner among the contenders after his 2010 British Open triumph, holed a 34-yard chip shot eagle at the par-5 15th but followed with a bogey to blunt the impact of his closing birdie.
“The only putt I made was on the last hole,” Oosthuizen said. “I gave it everything I had coming in.”
Tension mounted as Matsuyama, Molinari, Kisner, Thomas and Stroud all shared the lead at seven-under at one stage.
Kisner lipped out a six-foot par putt at 11 to fall back, his first miss inside seven feet all week after 53 such putts.
Stroud missed from the same distance for par moments later, his first off-target putt from so close as well.
Molinari charged into the hunt with four birdies in a five-hole stretch ending at 15 but a bogey at 16 and two closing pars was not enough.
Reed made four birdies in five holes on the front nine, added another at 10 and birdied 14 and 15th to reach seven-under but a closing bogey doomed his hopes.
Jordan Spieth is seeking to become just the sixth man in history to complete a career grand slam by winning the US PGA Championship at Quail Hollow.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at some former greats who fell one leg short of winning all four majors.
MISSING MAJOR: MASTERS
Trevino won six majors during his career, winning his third leg of the career grand slam with victory in the 1974 PGA Championship by a margin of just one stroke over fierce rival Jack Nicklaus.
‘The Merry Mex’ did not fare well at Augusta National and even turned down his invitation to play on three occasions, with his best finish a tie for 10th in 1975 and 1985.
MISSING MAJOR: US OPEN
Mickelson won his first of three Masters titles in 2004 and the US PGA the following year, but it was not until 2013 that he won the Open Championship at Muirfield.
By that point he had already finished runner-up in the US Open a record six times, most famously making a double bogey on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot in 2006 when he needed a par to win.
MISSING MAJOR: PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
Watson enjoyed great success at The Open, lifting the Claret Jug five times between 1975 and 1983.
The American won eight major championships in total, including two Masters victories and his sole triumph at the US Open in 1982.
Watson’s best performance in the US PGA Championship came long before he was aiming to complete the set, when he and Jerry Pate were beaten in a play-off by John Mahaffey.
MISSING MAJOR: PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
Palmer won seven major championships throughout his career, including four Masters titles.
His sole triumph at the US Open came in 1960, before winning back-to-back Open Championship’s in 1961 and 1962.
Palmer, who died in September 2016 at the age of 87, finished runner-up three times in the US PGA, finishing just a shot behind Julius Boros in 1968.