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Rory McIlroy: Will PGA Championship return to Valhalla end major title drought, 10 years on from win in the dark?

Rory McIlroy returns to Valhalla for the PGA Championship, venue of his most recent major success in 2014; McIlroy has won his last two PGA Tour events, including the Wells Fargo Championship; watch live from Thursday at 1pm on Sky Sports Golf

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As Rory McIlroy attempts to win his first major title since the 2014 PGA Championship, take a look at the best bits from his final round at Valhalla 10 years ago

It is nearly 10 years since Rory McIlroy claimed the last of his four major titles, a remarkable decade-long drought for a golfer of his considerable talents.

But will a return to the scene of his last triumph, Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, be precisely the remedy required for Rory?

Ten years ago, McIlroy edged out Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson on a thrilling final day that drifted into darkness in Kentucky, securing him the Wanamaker Trophy for the second time in three years.

But what can we learn from his triumph and will it help him in his quest for that elusive fifth major this month, live on Sky Sports?

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The men’s major season continues with the PGA Championship at Valhalla, with extended coverage from May 16-19 live on Sky Sports

How does McIlroy's form compare to 10 years ago?

The most notable difference between McIlroy's return to Valhalla this week and his 2014 success there, until the past month, was his form going in.

McIlroy admitted after a disappointing tied-22nd showing at The Masters last month that there is "lots of room for improvement" in his game, having finished higher than 19th just once in the first eight starts of his PGA Tour season.

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Highlights from day four of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans from TPC Louisiana in Avondale

He did follow that up a fortnight later with victory alongside Shane Lowry at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, before dominating the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday to win the event for a record fourth time.

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McIlroy carded a six-under 65 on the final day to finish five-strokes clear of Xander Schauffele, with his third win of the season - adding to the DP World Tour victory at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, meaning his pre-major form is now remarkable similar to his 2014 vintage.

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Highlights of the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow

The then 25-year-old was the red-hot favourite going into that year's PGA Championship, having emerged victorious at the Open Championship at Hoylake and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in his previous two starts, catapulting the Northern Irishman back to world No 1.

Understandably, McIlroy said ahead of clinching his hat-trick of titles at Valhalla that he was in the form of his life - completely unaware of the 10-year trophyless stretch in majors that would follow.

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A look at McIlroy's best shots from his 2014 Open Championship win at this year's venue, Royal Liverpool

"Mentally, it's the best I've ever been," McIlroy said at the time, reflecting on his Hoylake victory. "It was the most comfortable I've ever felt trying to close out a golf tournament.

"I didn't get ahead of myself; I didn't start to think about my score; I didn't think about where I was in the tournament; I just kept playing my shot after shot after shot."

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McIlroy's Valhalla finish with Mickelson for company

McIlroy carried that shot-by-shot approach into the PGA Championship a mere two-and-a-half weeks later but his Valhalla triumph was unique, contrasting to the three major wins that had come before.

In 2011, McIlroy led from start to finish at the US Open to win his first title by eight strokes, while another eight-stroke victory followed at the 2012 PGA Championship, a record-winning margin. He also led after every round at Hoylake, albeit he had to hold off a late challenge from Sergio Garcia to win by two.

Heading into the back nine of his final round at Valhalla, McIlroy trailed an elite trio of Mickelson, Fowler and Stenson, tied at the top two strokes ahead of the Northern Irishman.

Left with a 284-yard second at the 590-yard par-five 10th - a hole that had cost him a double-bogey seven on day one - McIlroy attacked with his three-wood and sent the ball to within seven feet of the pin to put him back in contention with a stunning eagle-three.

"You need a little bit of luck in major championships to win and that was my lucky break," he admitted at the time.

McIlroy joined the tie for the lead before dropped shots for Fowler and Stenson at the 14th left only Mickelson for company at the top of the leaderboard and the Northern Irishman benefited from a blunder by the American at the par-four 16th, Mickelson missing a seven-foot putt for par.

Then, on the 17th, with McIlroy seemingly in trouble in a fairway bunker 150 yards from the pin, he wedged to within 11 feet before rolling in a birdie putt for a two-stroke lead with one hole to play.

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'I needed to assert myself' - McIlroy triumphs in the dark

Also adding to the drama of that 2014 finish at Valhalla was the fact that the final day had been severely affected by rain, a two-hour delay resulting in the championship finishing in near total darkness - the lights blazing from the clubhouse behind the 18th green.

Given the race against time to get play finished, the penultimate pairing of Mickelson and Fowler were forced to stand aside on the 18th to allow the final group of McIlroy and Bernd Wiesberger - whose challenge had faded with three bogeys - to tee off.

Mickelson did not seem happy with being asked to make way but channelled that into a stunning chip shot that he almost holed for eagle - his birdie at least forcing McIlroy to make par for the win.

McIlroy's drive flirted dangerously close to the water to the right of the 18th fairway and, despite later finding the greenside bunker, he came away with the par needed to clinch victory.

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, hits out of the bunker on the 18th hole during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Image: McIlroy recovered from finding a greenside bunker to see out a fourth major victory in 2014

Reflecting earlier this month on those chaotic final moments in the dark from 10 years ago, McIlroy said: "I'd say I'm a pretty non-confrontational person, but when push comes to shove, I will.

"That was one of those times when I needed to sort of assert my will on a situation. I think if I wasn't as pushy as I was, I would have had to sleep on that lead and on that tee shot overnight - I just didn't want to do that.

"I think the guys up ahead were pretty unhappy with how it all unfolded. I got the result that I was looking for in the end and that's all that matters."

McIlroy's agonising near misses since 2014 triumph

That Valhalla victory for McIlroy saw him become the first player since Padraig Harrington in 2008 to win back-to-back majors.

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Ahead of the PGA Championship, check out the top 10 shots ever played at the tournament

It also made him the third-youngest player after Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus to win four majors, placing him one shy of the career tally of Seve Ballesteros and two off Sir Nick Faldo. Quite the exalted company to sit within and surely only the start of things for McIlroy?

Not quite. McIlroy in majors over the subsequent decade has been a repetitive tale of missed opportunities and near misses, with a staggering 20 top-10 finishes failing to be converted into titles.

In among those are three runners-up placings, with two of those coming in the past two particularly agonising years. In the nine major championships held since the start of 2022, McIlroy has only twice failed to finish eighth or higher, when failing to make the cut at The Masters in 2023 and his tied-22nd finish this year.

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Watch a selection of the best and worst shots from McIlroy's eventful career at The Masters

In 2022 at Augusta National, he finished second to the unstoppable force of Scottie Scheffler in pursuit of his first major title, McIlroy's stunning final-round of 64 - the best of the week - ultimately coming too late in proceedings to truly threaten the top of the leaderboard.

His third-place finish at that years' Open Championship and the 2023 US Open were far more agonising in nature.

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A look back at some of the key moments in McIlroy's final round at The Open in 2022, as Cameron Smith claimed the Claret Jug

Tied with Viktor Hovland going into the final round at St Andrews, McIlroy was overhauled by Cameron Smith as the Australian produced a sensational final-round 64 to win. The Northern Irishman ultimately finished third, unable to keep pace with the scoring, carding only two birdies on the Sunday.

In Los Angeles last year, McIlroy hovered three shots off the lead after his opening round of 65, then two after day two and appeared poised when one behind relative major novice Wyndham Clark going into the final day… but McIlroy would manage just the one birdie over a disappointing final round, with his challenge failing to truly materialise.

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McIlroy missed out on a first major in nine years after falling one shot short in the US Open at Los Angeles Country Club, a number of near misses with the putter proved to be the difference

Might McIlroy's luck finally change as he returns to the venue that brought his last major success? Based on his last two results on the PGA Tour, you wouldn't bet against it.

Who will win the PGA Championship? Watch live from May 16-19 on Sky Sports! Live coverage begins on Thursday May 16 from 1pm on Sky Sports Golf. Stream the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, majors and more with NOW.

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