Aug 06, 2014

    McIlroy roars as Tiger ails


    TOP-RANKED Rory McIlroy took his first look at the Valhalla layout on Monday, ahead of the 96th PGA Championship, while Tiger Woods was in Florida having treatment on his aching back.

    Golf's current and former superstars were on vastly different trajectories for the year's final Major, with McIlroy going for a hat-trick of triumphs and Woods' status in doubt a day after a painful exit at the World Golf Championships event in Akron, Ohio.

    McIlroy won his third Major title last month at the British Open and took his first WGC crown on Sunday at Akron, arriving at Valhalla as a clear favourite and the first player since Woods in 2009 to enter a Major after back-to-back wins.

    "It's great to have a chance... to try to win three in a row," McIlroy said. "(It's) one I desperately want to win."

    He overtook Australian Adam Scott for the world No. 1 ranking after winning on Sunday.

    "My goal... is just to try to win as many golf tournaments as I can. It's not to try to finish No. 1," McIlroy said.

    "I feel like, with the way I'm playing, there're a few (victories) left in me this year."

    Woods was supposed to be practising on Monday at Valhalla, where he won the 2000 PGA Championship, but was instead in Florida having his back checked while the course was examined by caddie Joe LaCava.

    His agent, Mark Steinberg, told ESPN on Monday that the star's ability to play might not be decided until the eve of the tournament today.

    "Way too early," Mr Steinberg said in a text message. "He has to rest and get treatment and then assess later... Nothing further today, maybe (not) even tomorrow."

    Woods, a 14-time Major champion chasing the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus, underwent back surgery on March 31 to ease a pinched nerve.

    He "jarred" his back by hopping into a bunker after hitting his second shot on Sunday at the second hole at Firestone.

    Playing through pain, he lasted until hitting his tee shot at the ninth and then walked off.

    That left Phil Mickelson, who fired his low round of the year on Sunday with a 62, not knowing whether he will be playing alongside Woods in the first two rounds.

    "It didn't look good. It looked like he was really in pain," Mickelson said.

    "I hope he's OK. I hope he's able to play. I hope it's a muscle and nothing serious because I'm really looking forward to playing with him.

    "We all want him in the field."

    Steve Stricker expressed the worry of many, saying Woods might have tried to come back from surgery too fast.

    "He came back to me a little early after back surgery," Stricker said. "Hopefully he didn't come back too soon. Hopefully this is a little blip and he will come out here and be able to play."

    Woods' woes leave the stage to McIlroy, who won his first Major at the 2011 US Open and added the PGA Championship in 2012.

    He averaged a PGA season-best 334 yards off the tee last week and ranked 12th in driving accuracy while leading in greens reached in regulation as well.

    "Obviously, Rory's in incredible form at the moment," Scott said. "He'll be the man to beat by the looks of things, and I'll be gunning for him for sure."