First the rain came, flooding an already soft and vulnerable Valhalla Golf Club on Sunday afternoon until the greens were ponds and the fairways were streaked by flowing rivulets. The leader board heading into the final round was stocked with golf’s elite, and the combination of talent and a vulnerable, receptive course foreshadowed a showdown of aggressive, attacking shot-making.
The previous three major championships this year had been notable for their lack of drama as the eventual winners took comfortable leads into the final hours and cruised to weighty if wearisome victories. By contrast, the final round of the P.G.A. Championship was a taut battle more like a heavyweight prizefight. Four men climbed into the ring and exchanged birdies at a sizzling pace in close quarters.
Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson took turns holding at least a piece of the tournament lead across four hours of major-championship anxiety. Racing to be done before sunset because the rain had delayed the tournament by nearly two hours, they briskly charged and parried until McIlroy found the resolve to make a pivotal birdie at the 17th hole and held on with a par on the 18th to claim a one-shot victory over Mickelson.
Earlier in the afternoon, McIlroy, who began the day in the lead, had been three strokes back. “I think I showed a lot of guts,” McIlroy said afterward. “I had to come back, and I had to overcome some struggles on the front nine. There were moments of adversity there. It was getting dark. There was a lot going on, so I’m proud of the way I won.”
McIlroy’s final-round 68 put him at 16 under par for the tournament. Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson finished two shots back at 14 under. It was McIlroy’s second major victory of the season, his second P.G.A. Championship and the fourth major title of his young, flourishing career. At 25, he is the third-youngest golfer to win four majors, behind Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. When McIlroy won his previous three major titles, including this year’s British Open, he had a big lead and protected it in the final round. On Sunday, he had to rally and persevere. In that way, it may be his greatest performance in a major championship.
“Rory is just playing better than everyone else right now — that’s three in a row,” said Fowler, referring to McIlroy’s consecutive victories in the British Open, the Bridgestone Invitational and the P.G.A. “We’ll see if we can sneak one away from him at some point.”
On the opening nine holes Sunday, it looked as if several golfers might stall McIlroy’s streak. Though he began the day with a one-stroke lead, he soon found continued…