Just 21, McIlroy in the hunt again for major title

Rory McIlroy tied for third at the British Open.
John Biever/SI

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) — Rory McIlroy didn't need long to figure out the majors.

A month after tying for third at the British Open, the 21-year-old from Northern Ireland is three shots off the lead going into the final round of the PGA Championship.

"I definitely have a chance," McIlroy said after his 5-under 67 on Saturday moved him into a tie for second. "It's a great place to be."

And one he's getting accustomed to.

McIlroy matched the major championship record with a 63 in the first round at St. Andrews. He took himself out of contention with an 80 the next day, and looked more like a petulant teenager than a professional golfer, rolling his eyes after bad shots, scuffing his shoes and slumping his shoulders.

But he showed he's got the mettle to hang with the best of them, rebounding with a 69-68 finish. Add in his rounds at Whistling Straits - he shot 71 and 68 the first two days - and it seems more a matter of when McIlroy will win a major rather than if.

He also finished third at last year's PGA, though he wasn't much of a factor in the showdown between Y.E. Yang and Tiger Woods, and was 10th at the 2009 U.S. Open.

Should McIlroy win Sunday, he'd be the youngest major champion since John McDermott won the U.S. Open in 1911.

"It's nice to have another chance," McIlroy said. "I'll approach it the same way as I've approached the last three days. I'm going to go out there and play my game. That's all I feel I have to do. If I hit enough good shots and hit enough good putts tomorrow, it might just be my day."

McIlroy is the head of golf's version of the Brat Pack. He turned pro in 2007, earned his European card without going to Q-school and broke into the top 10 in the world all before he turned 21. He claimed his first PGA Tour win in May, bringing Quail Hollow to its knees with a 62 on Sunday.

Oh, he held off Phil Mickelson and two-time major champion Angel Cabrera to get the victory, too.

"I'm not sure if we're feeding off each other, I just think that we're all improving," McIlroy said. "I definitely don't look at the young guys and go, 'Right. I have to be as good as him.' I'm just trying to get better. And I think everyone else is sort of doing the same thing."

One person he does take inspiration from is fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell. McDowell was the surprise winner at the U.S. Open, and seeing a guy he's played with dozens of times win a major title makes it seem all the more attainable.

So, too, does consistently putting up big finishes at the majors - even if it hasn't resulted in a title yet.

Come Sunday, that could change.

"I didn't really have any age or a number or anything. I suppose I just wanted to do it as quickly as possible," McIlroy said. "(The past results) give me a lot of confidence to know that if I am in these major championships, I'm good enough to hold my own with the best players in the world."

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