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In-form Rory McIlroy riding momentum as he returns to scene of last Major win at Valhalla bouyed by back-to-back wins

In-form Rory McIlroy riding momentum as he returns to scene of last Major win at Valhalla bouyed by back-to-back wins

By Mathieu Wood

Are the stars aligning for Rory McIlroy? After wins in his last two starts on the PGA TOUR, there is genuine optimism this could be the week he ends his near ten-year wait without a Major Championship victory at the US PGA Championship.

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With consecutive wins in the past two weeks, Rory McIlroy is riding a wave of confidence and momentum as he makes his return to Valhall for the second Major of the year.

"I think it's all about confidence and momentum," he told media on Wednesday, "and I have a lot of confidence and quite a bit of momentum coming into this week. So as I said at the start, it's just about trying to keep that going."

As if the confidence he has gained with back-to-back victories wasn't enough, particularly the dominant manner of his success at the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday, the Northern Irishman is returning to a venue with fond memories in Valhalla Golf Club.

The Kentucky venue was the scene of his fourth and most recent Major title at the US PGA Championship in 2014, when McIlroy also arrived aiming to claim his third consecutive title, having won The Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in the weeks prior.

Ahead of his latest tilt at winning a fifth Major, we remember what is widely considered among the most memorable of golf's four biggest events since the turn of the century.

After all, who can forget the scenes in the darkness at Valhalla as McIlroy tapped in for a closing par to win his second PGA Championship and fourth career Major title?

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Rory McIlroy almost found water with his tee shot on the 72nd hole at Valhalla in 2014

Following a near two-hour delay to play earlier in the day due to rain, players in the final groups were as much in a competition with each other as they were against time.

In the fading light, the final group of 54-hole leader McIlroy and playing partner Bernd Wiesberger drove from the 18th tee with American pair Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler standing aside up ahead.

It was a rare scene at the elite level of golf, let alone on the Sunday of a Major Championship.

After coming close to finding the water with his tee shot, McIlroy, who at this stage held a two-shot lead, found a greenside bunker with his approach before two putting from long range for victory.

Just before that, Mickelson had come close to chipping in for an eagle which would have seen him draw level at the top of the leaderboard.

Everything that unfolded in those closing moments was in keeping with the drama that had already gone before.

After a sluggish start in which 54-hole leader McIlroy played the first six holes in two-over par, the Northern Irishman hit his stride on the back nine.

Firstly, he eagled the par-five tenth to move one off the lead held by Fowler. Secondly, he birdied the par-four 13th to make it a four-way tie for the lead. Thirdly, he made a three at the 17th to move two shots clear and give himself breathing room with one hole to play.

And then came that dramatic conclusion.

With the reclaiming of the Wanamaker Trophy – two years on from his first at Kiawah Island – McIlroy made it back-to-back Major victories, following quickly on from the Open Championship.

Not only that, but it was a performance that lived up to his status as the best player in the world at the time.

"I didn't think in my wildest dreams I would have a summer like this," he said at the time. "I just played the best golf in my life."

Still just 25 years old, more Major triumphs seemed a cast-iron certainty. But after several near misses in the intervening years, McIlroy returns to Valhalla almost a decade on from his last Major success with his hunger for further honours undiminished.

After finishing runner-up at the U.S. Open last year - his third second-placed Major finish since his 2014 US PGA Championship win, he said: "When I do finally win this next Major, it's going to be really, really sweet.

"I would go through 100 Sundays like this to get my hands on another Major Championship."

In a remarkable show of his consistency on the biggest of stages, McIlroy has finished in the top ten in seven of his last nine Major appearances.

Not only that, but McIlroy arrives in Louisville with renewed belief in his game after consecutive victories at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and Wells Fargo Championship, a title he has now won on a record four occasions.

Despite having already won earlier in the year at the DP World Tour's Hero Dubai Desert Classic in January, the World Number Two was keen to stress just how important his victory with Ryder Cup teammate Shane Lowry in New Orleans was.

“I think sort of reinjecting a little bit of that fun back into it in a week like this week – it can always help,” he said, before singing Journey's classic 'Don't Stop Believin' on stage in front of huge crowds.

And now, following his win over the weekend in Charlotte, McIlroy has added further credence to the belief among many he might be set to end his long wait for Major Number five.

While replicating the same sense of freedom in McIlroy's play over recent weeks on both his and the PGA Championship's return to Valhalla won't be an easy ask, victory would certainly rank highly in golf's history of memorable moments.

And even he feels like things might just be falling into place for him.

“Going to a venue next week where I have won, it feels like the stars are aligning a little bit. But I have a lot of golf to play and a lot of great players to try to beat. I am going into the next Major of the year feeling really good about myself.”

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