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Rory McIlroy's opening 67 is quite the change from a year ago at the PGA Championship

By Shane Bacon | Blogger

Talk about how big a difference a year makes in the life of Rory McIlroy. A year ago, McIlroy was heading into the PGA Championship one of the favorites, with people thinking he had as good a shot at a second major in 2011 as anyone. Rory had struggled a bit at the British Open, but this was his season, and it seemed the Atlantic Athletic Club was a course that he could tear apart.

But early in his opening round, Rory did what you see above. Trying to figure out a way to punch a shot out of trouble, McIlroy smoked his wrist against a root and was never the same, finishing T-64 in an event some thought he shouldn't be finishing at all.

It was a strange end to a strange major year for Rory that saw him collapse at Augusta, dominate at Congressional and be a non-factor at the final two majors.

And then came 2012. Rory went into the season on fire, but has yet to find his form in the majors, finishing T-40 at the Masters, missing the cut at the U.S. Open and coming in a disappointing T-60 at the Open. McIlroy was still a big name coming into this week, but his play has been so erratic that even his T-5 at last week's Bridgestone Invitational wasn't enough to get people excited for Rory's chances.

But great players step up at big events. McIlroy's opening 67 at the PGA Championship was as solid a round as he's played in months. The youngster didn't card a single bogey, got around Kiawah Island with five birdies on the appropriate holes, and did exactly what was needed to open his bid at a second major.

The knock on Rory has been warranted. The second part of this season has seemed to be a sleep walk for McIlroy, and people have questioned how hard he's been working at his game when it seems he has the ability to always finish in the top-10 at a major when he comes in prepared.

But Rory has talked about refocusing on his golf game, and so far this week, it has paid off. Who knows how the weather will be on Friday afternoon when McIlroy, Tiger Woods and some of the other leaders tee off, but on a wind-free Thursday morning, the Northern Irishman did exactly what he needed to do to give himself a shot, and erase all that doubt that the first three majors of the year brought in critic's minds.

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