US PGA Championship: Spieth's ascent leaves McIlroy in need of response
Rory McIlroy insists he will not be looking to prove a point to anyone in the US PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, but it is hard to shake the feeling that he needs a fifth major title more urgently than ever.
When McIlroy triumphed in the 2014 US PGA at Valhalla, to claim his fourth major at the age of 25, he was undoubtedly his sport's dominant figure.
Only Phil Mickelson (5) and Tiger Woods (14) among active players could boast more victories in golf's premier strokeplay events - a statistic that holds true to this day - and it appeared inevitable that McIlroy would soon add Masters glory to his resume and become only the sixth man to win all four modern-day majors.
Fast forward to the present day and McIlroy has still to add to his tally, success at Augusta having remained painfully elusive up to this point.
What is more, the Northern Irishman now faces the prospect of being beaten to the career Grand Slam, following Spieth's dramatic win in last month's Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) August 9, 2017
Of the five players who've completed the career Grand Slam, three (Sarazen, Hogan and Woods) did so on their first attempt. pic.twitter.com/PmHJgwa5C0
Jason Day and Dustin Johnson may have shared ownership of the number-one ranking since last March, but McIlroy and Spieth undoubtedly remain the star figures of their generation, with the clear potential to be all-time greats. As a result, the latter duo are likely to find their achievements constantly compared over the coming years.
For the moment, McIlroy still holds the edge over Spieth when it comes to major victories. However, the younger man's three titles have all been secured since McIlroy triumphed at Valhalla and success for Spieth on Sunday would be enough to earn a slice of history. At 24 years and 17 days, he would replace Woods as the youngest winner of the Grand Slam.
Having so far failed on three occasions to complete the final leg of a career Slam, McIlroy would surely be pained to see Spieth get there first. Regardless of what either man goes on to achieve, and it is highly likely both men will end their careers with a clean sweep of majors, there will be considerable bragging rights for the first to achieve a feat of such enormity.
If that alone increases the need for McIroy to shine this week, the venue for the year's final major also brings additional pressure.
He has twice won PGA Tour titles at Quail Hollow, breaking the course record on each occasion. A stunning 62 earned McIlroy his maiden PGA Tour title in 2010 and he lowered that score by one when winning by seven strokes in the 2015 Wells Fargo Championship.
62 Rory McIlroy— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 9, 2017
61 Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy owns the course record at Quail Hollow. pic.twitter.com/mCjJieOCyW
Such notable successes in Charlotte, allied to recent signs of progress in The Open and last week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, have convinced the bookmakers to install McIlroy as the favourite for US PGA glory.
If ever there was a week for the 28-year-old to rediscover his very best form, this is certainly it.