Now we know. There is only one way that Rory McIlroy is going to end his long barren run in the major championships. The right way.
Desperate to win the 102nd US PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco, on the sixth anniversary of his last major success, it became abundantly clear that the Northern Irishman is not that desperate.
We are used to golfers calling rules penalties upon themselves, and generally displaying shining examples of sportsmanship. But the Northern Irishman’s actions during the heat of his second round went above and beyond.
McIlroy had pushed his approach to the third green into the thick rough. When he reached his ball, he discovered that a member of the media had inadvertently trodden upon it. McIlroy called for a referee, who informed him that he was allowed to replace it, without penalty, based on an ‘estimate’ of where the ball lay.
After duly doing so, McIlroy felt uncomfortable with the result, despite the fact the official had given his blessing. He thought the lie was too good, reasoning that the media man wouldn’t have stood on it if you could see the ball.
He insisted the lie was made worse. So much worse, in fact, that instead of a straightforward up and down, he could only pitch the ball on to the green and two-putt for a bogey from 25 feet. Imagine if he goes on to lose the tournament by a stroke?
Actually, we do not need to imagine. He would be perfectly content. By his actions, he made it quite clear that when major number five finally arrives, he would hate for it to be accompanied by the nagging thought that he won it while getting away with something.
The 31-year-old seemed nonplussed when reporters asked him why he didn’t just accept the referee’s verdict and the rub of the green. His response recalled Bobby Jones’s famous dictum after he was praised for calling a penalty upon himself at the 1925 US Open. ‘You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank,’ replied the erudite American.
McIlroy explained: ‘At the end of the day, golf is a game of integrity, and I don’t want to try to get away with anything out there. I’d far rather be on the wrong end of the rules than the right end.’
Even in golf, he would not be in the majority in believing in that philosophy. The list of champions who pushed the rules to the limit in search of every advantage they could find is far longer than you might think. Of the current brigade, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed have shown no such regard for the spirit of the game.
Some, therefore, might think of it as the moral high ground. By contrast, McIlroy, walking in the unimpeachable Jones’s footsteps, clearly believes it is the only ground.
McIlroy began the third round seven shots off the halfway lead held by Chinese Haotong Li and five behind a formidable group in second place that included the likes of Brooks Koepka and the English pair, Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose. Another Englishman, Paul Casey, was a further stroke behind