McIlroy lost some buzz in 2013 majors


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PINEHURST, N.C. — Since he won the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, S.C., Rory McIlroy has gone five major tournaments without a victory.

While that is mere pittance compared to Sergio Garcia’s 0-for-62 drought in major championships, McIlroy does not like that he failed to win a major in 2013 and finished tied for eighth in April at the Masters.

His objective this season is to win two major titles, and his goal remains alive heading into the start of the U.S. Open today at Pinehurst No. 2.

“After the season I had in the majors last year, I was coming in this year and making them a real priority,” McIlroy said Wednesday. “I want to get in contention. I want to feel the buzz of being there on the last day of majors and having a chance to win and being more consistent.”

McIlroy, 24, won the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, then followed that with his victory in the PGA at the Ocean Course a year later. Both of his victories were by a whopping eight shots.

He comes to Pinehurst after a victory three weeks ago in the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship and has finished in the top eight in four of his past five PGA Tour starts.

The most recent player to win more than one major in a season was Padraig Harrington, who won the British Open and PGA Championship in 2008.

“I feel like it’s getting to the point where I should be at least contending again,” said McIlroy, the sixth-ranked player in the world. “It’s only been five majors since I won at Kiawah, so it’s not that bad. But, even if it doesn’t happen for me this week, getting myself in contention and feeling that buzz of having a chance, that’s really what I want to do.”

Hometown favorite

Brendon Todd, who won his first PGA Tour title at the Byron Nelson Classic, is a hometown favorite this week because he won the North Carolina state championship three times when he went to high school in Cary, N.C.

But, before he became a high school sensation in North Carolina, Todd spent the first 11 years of his life in Western Pennsylvania and learning the game at Rolling Hills Country Club.

He was born in Canonsburg and attended McMurray Elementary School through the fifth grade when his family moved to North Carolina.

Todd, 28, is making his first appearance in the U.S. Open, but he said he has played “about a hundred junior events” at the Pinehurst resort. And one of his chief competitors was Webb Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champ.

“It was cool to see him and his dad on TV accept the trophy,” Todd said. “I think it was a motivator. It was one of those things that you watch your friend do and accomplish something so great and you realize, man, that’s so awesome. I think that means I probably will have a good opportunity to do it myself in my career.”

Waste area challenges

When Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw restored Pinehurst No. 2 to its original Donald Ross design, they took out 40 acres of rough and bordered the fairways with sandy waste areas with native grasses.

Those areas are not maintained at all by the grounds crew — no raking, no weeding, no edging — which could lead to some dicey lies. And shots.

“The challenge of those areas are that you have sand and then you also have kind of a wiry grass,” Phil Mickelson said. “The sand will make the ball come out dead with a lot of spin and the wiry grass will make the ball come out shooting into a flier. So identifying which way the ball’s going to come out is going to make a big difference, because it’s 40 or 50 yards [difference] with an iron.

“Rickie Fowler had a shot where he thought it was going to come out dead with the sand and the ball went screaming over the green and two-hopped into the grandstands. It would have been 70 yards over the green had it not hit the grand stands.”

Water conservation

Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director and the man responsible for course setup, said Pinehurst now has a “rustic” look after the restoration and the appearance might be stark on television.

Unlike most courses today, Pinehurst has only a single row of irrigation in the fairways because there is no rough to water. And some of the areas along the edges of the fairway are brown because the course is using 70 percent less water — from 50 million gallons a year to 15 million.

“I think [viewers] are going to turn on and say, ‘Did I tune into a British Open? What is this I’m looking at?” Davis said. “Here’s a golf course that really went back to its roots. It’s focused on maintenance up the middle. It’s depending on Mother Nature. And it’s good. And it’s exactly what Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw wanted.

Davis added, “The message we’re saying is, less water on a golf course is a very good thing. We happen to think that, long-term, water is going to be the biggest obstacle to the game of golf, more than participation, more than anything. And I think certainly in certain parts of this country we’re already seeing it. It’s not going to just be a question of cost. It’s a question of, will you be able to get it?”


Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.

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