Why Rory has a prime shot to hoist the Wanamaker

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Why Rory has a prime shot to hoist the Wanamaker

Rory McIlroy is from Northern Ireland, but at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, he’ll feel more at home than perhaps any other PGA Championship contender.

That’s because McIlroy, who finished fourth in the Open Championship after a horrendous first nine holes, has won two tournaments at Quail Hollow since 2010. That's crucial, of course. We’ll circle back to it later.

McIlroy's success in North Carolina is not the only reason to like his chances at the PGA Championship.

Yes, he's still battling back from an injury, and he bogeyed five of those first six holes in the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale a couple weeks ago. Back then, it was tough to envision him rebounding.

Until he did just that. McIlroy shot 10-under par the rest of the weekend and, until Jordan Spieth went all Jordan Spieth on the world in the final round, briefly had a shot to win.

"I thought I had a chance to post a number and at least scare them a little bit," McIlroy said of Spieth and Matt Kuchar.

That finish and his dominance at Quail Hollow give Rory fans a reason to believe. Remember, he hasn’t just won twice there. He’s set records there.

And he hasn’t just set records at Quail Hollow. He’s broken the very records that he set at Quail Hollow. In 2010, you’ll recall, McIlroy won his first PGA Tour event at the age of 20, the youngest player to do so since Tiger Woods. He shot a 10-under 62 in the final round, the lowest score in course history.

Five years later, Rory one-upped himself. He was a serious threat to notch a 59 on moving day at the 2015 Wells Fargo Championship, settling instead for a 61. Still, a victory and a course record ain’t too shabby.

“Quail Hollow, I've played well there,” McIlroy said recently. “Shot a couple of course records, a couple of wins. Got beaten in a playoff, as well. Another couple of top 10s thrown in there. So I play well at Quail Hollow. I love the golf course. I know they've made a few changes, but I'll have some really good vibes going into that week."

We haven’t even brought up the fact that – hello!!! – McIlroy owns two of the last five Wanamaker Trophies. In 2012, he coasted to the PGA crown. In 2014, the road was a bit bumpier, but with the pressure mounting late, he edged Phil Mickelson by a stroke. So he proved he’s good enough to blow the competition out of the water and, two years later, he showed he can win without his A-game in a high-stakes environment.

"To win it in this fashion and this style," McIlroy said in 2014, “it means a lot. It means that I know that I can do it. I know that I can come from behind. I know that I can mix it up with the best players in the world down the stretch in a major and come out on top.

"Phil Mickelson, the second best player ... in this generation, to be able to beat him on the back nine on a Sunday, it's great to have in the memory bank and great to have in the locker going forward."

When it comes to this PGA Championship, McIlroy and Spieth have to be considered the most likely candidates to raise the Wanamaker Trophy on Aug. 13. The Quail Hollow track record, the PGA Championship track record, the Open Championship momentum all make McIlroy a threat. The case for Spieth: He’s just so freaking good. And he has a little momentum himself. (A PGA Championship win also would give Spieth a career Grand Slam.)

Unlikely threats always emerge, too, at the PGA. We didn’t see Jimmy Walker winning it in 2016.

When picking a winner at any major, you want to choose someone who checks the most boxes: talent, momentum, course history and event history, to name a few.

McIlroy checks every box. So don't be surprised to see him win his third PGA Championship at a place he knows best.