Rory McIlroy dealing with another distraction on eve of PGA Championship

Rory McIlroy has all the momentum he could want heading into the PGA Championship as he tries to end a drought in the majors that has lasted a decade.

He also has a major distraction.

McIlroy is coming off two straight victories, one of them with Irish pal Shane Lowry in New Orleans, the other an exquisite back nine at Quail Hollow to rally past Xander Schauffele last week in the Wells Fargo Championship.

The PGA Championship is at Valhalla, site of his last major championship 10 years ago. And if that wasn’t enough, rain has pounded an already soft course with more showers expected, the conditions that favor power and aggressive play, right up McIlroy’s alley.

The distraction is an impending divorce from his wife of seven years, a stunning turn of events in so many ways. There was no public hint of any trouble, and most peculiar of all is the timing.

The petition to divorce in Palm Beach County, Florida, came on Monday — the day after he won at Quail Hollow and the day before he made his way to Kentucky for the PGA Championship, the news breaking a day before he held a pre-tournament news conference.

McIlroy put out a statement from his management team Tuesday confirming the divorce and saying he wanted to “ensure this difficult time is as respectful and amicable as possible.”

McIlroy’s team asked that his news conference be limited to 10 minutes — less time than it took the PGA of America to craft an introduction reminding the media of his desire not to talk about it.

McIlroy gave long answers to five questions about Valhalla, his confidence level, his approach to playing well. That led to fewer questions, a total of seven. The shortest answer came when he was asked about his energy level and how he was feeling.

“I’m ready to play this week,” McIlroy said.

It’s not like this PGA Championship was short on subplots in the first place.

Scottie Scheffler’s wife had their first child on May 8, and the world’s No. 1 player arrives having not competed in three weeks since winning for the fourth time in his last five starts. Only four players since 1960 have won the first two majors of the year.

Brooks Koepka is coming off his first win of the year on LIV Golf and is the defending PGA champion, hopeful of joining Tiger Woods as a four-time winner.

“I’m just looking forward to a major championship,” Koepka said. “That kind of gets my excitement going.”

Woods is playing, too, still believing at age 48 he has another major in him, while acknowledging that it doesn’t help to have played so little golf. This will be his third tournament of the year, and one of them (Riviera) lasted only 24 holes.

And then there’s McIlroy, a player who is not unfamiliar with distraction. He long has been the loudest voice opposing LIV Golf, going back two years before a circuit funded by Saudi Arabian money even began. And then he changed his tune and cared only about unification.

McIlroy was on the PGA Tour policy board, then he left the board. He thought he had a path back onto the board until that was shut down last week. He has a lot going on.

And then came news of the divorce, leading to curiosity how this will affect his game.

It didn’t seem to bother him at Quail Hollow, not with that eight-hole stretch he played in 8 under in the middle of his round for a 65.

And then there was 2014 when he was engaged to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. The wedding invitations had just been sent when McIlroy broke it off with a phone call. The news came out at the BMW PGA Championship, Europe’s biggest event. He wound up winning for the first time that year, then captured two majors and a World Golf Championship.

McIlroy had not played at Valhalla since he won in near darkness in 2014, managing to squeeze in a practice round between spells of showers.

He won in January in Dubai, but his record on the PGA Tour had been paltry until a few weeks ago — just one top 10. But he looked free and fun winning with Lowry in New Orleans. He looked to be at his best at Quail Hollow.

McIlroy thought back to last summer when he ran off eight straight top 10s, including a victory in the Scottish Open.

“It doesn’t seem like that long ago that my game has felt this good,” McIlroy said. “But I would say from a technical standpoint, some of the shots that I hit last week … when I can see those three-quarter shots and those wedge shots starting on the right line, that obviously gives me a lot of confidence.”

The course is longer than it was in 2014 — 7,609 yards, sure to play every bit of that as soft as the fairways have been — though McIlroy said it felt like the same place.

Now it’s a matter of conjuring up the same feeling.

“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,” he said. “It’s just about trying to keep that going.

“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.”


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