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Leonard: Call Rory a favorite, not a shoo-in
Rory McIlroy, right, is congratulated by Sergio Garcia after McIlroy won the Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament by two shots over Garcia on Sunday at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. - photo by Phil Long | Associated Press

Tiger arrives at Valhalla to test ailing back in advance of PGA Championship

It’s time for another major tournament, and Rory McIlroy is the overwhelming favorite in the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club.

But he’ll have to shake some recent history, including his own, if he’s to win his second straight major and fourth overall this weekend in Louisville, Ky. Particularly this year, winners of the previous major have been off-target at the next one, to put it mildly.

At the three majors in 2014 thus far, the winners of the preceding major have missed the cut (Jason Dufner at the Masters), missed the cut (Bubba Watson at the U.S. Open) and finished 25 shots back in 70th place (Martin Kaymer at the British Open).

Those three golfers have combined to finish 24-over in eight rounds. In fact, Kaymer was two shots and one place behind Tiger Woods, who was in his second tournament back from a months-long absence from competitive golf.

Even if you look back at McIlroy’s follow-up to his two previous major triumphs (2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship), he tied for 25th at each. He was 7-over, 12 shots off the pace, at the 2011 British Open and 2-over, 11 shots back, at the 2013 Masters.

I know, I know, it’s a different time now, at least for him. McIlroy has moved on from personal and professional problems and is clearly the world’s best — with a world No. 1 ranking to show for it.

McIlroy has won his past two tournaments: the British Open and the Bridgestone Invitational, both against some of the deepest fields in the world.

He has stared down probably the second-hottest golfer these days, Sergio Garcia, to win each of those two tournaments. McIlroy also held off the charge of Rickie Fowler at the British Open.

It’s easy to see why he should win the PGA Championship and accelerate even further — is that possible? — the discussion of his place in golf history and how high he can eventually climb.

But this is one of golf’s major tournaments, and they don’t usually work in such a tidy way. They have a way of producing unexpected champions and humbling the ambitions of a golfer who would aim for a major winning streak.

Plus, there’s that whole matter of the career grand slam, which McIlroy could complete with a Masters victory in April. He openly spoke of the emotions and excitement that will bring for him. It’s hard to imagine he could carry that same hunger in a major he’s already won with everyone expecting yet another dominant performance.

If McIlroy can keep his game at its currently insanely high level at Valhalla, the field is in trouble.

But don’t be shocked if Garcia, Fowler, Adam Scott or Matt Kuchar push him hard or even lift the trophy themselves.

After all, winning a major isn’t easy. McIlroy has just made it look that way three times.

Sports writer Clark Leonard can be reached at, 770-718-3418 or

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