PITTSFORD, N.Y. — The curls no longer spilled from under his cap, a change for Rory McIlroy. Prompted to reveal the rest of his haircut, he removed his hat and wild brown locks sprang to life.
"Still a little bit on the top," he said Wednesday with a smile.
Only then did McIlroy resemble the Boy Wonder who dominated golf last summer, starting with his win at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island by a record margin. He didn't walk the fairways that week, he bounced. He was No. 1 in the world and looked every bit the part. McIlroy would love to rediscover that kid at Oak Hill this week.
In its place is a 24-year-old from Northern Ireland who hasn't won a tournament, and only once did he come close. He has finished over par in all three majors, with only two rounds at the British Open. He has failed to make the cut five times this year, which includes walking off in the Honda Classic with sore wisdom teeth that still haven't been removed.
But he can't wait to get to the first tee today. Inspiration comes from videos he has been watching of his eight-shot win at Kiawah Island, along with his back-to-back FedEx Cup playoff wins. Some of what he noticed was technical. What really stood out was the body language.
"It's how you carry yourself. It's all that sort of stuff, your little mannerisms," McIlroy said. "I guess it's just trying to remember those feelings and remember how I felt that week and trying to carry some of that into this week."
What would go a lot longer at Oak Hill is keeping the ball in play on a traditional, tree-lined course — so many trees that even being in the fairway doesn't mean a clear shot at the green if the ball is slightly out of position. The greens are small and slope toward the front. Oak Hill is a hard course; in the previous five majors held here only 10 players in those five majors have finished under par.
"This may be the toughest golf course, but the fairest golf course that we play," Tom Watson said. "Somebody is going to win this thing, and that person is going to play awfully well. Wish I could say that's me."
Tiger Woods comes in with five wins this year after winning the Bridgestone Invitational last week, sparked by a second-round 61 that tied his personal best.
Phil Mickelson is coming off a victory at the British Open with a final-round 66 regarded as one of the best closing rounds in a major. If he could pick off another PGA Championship, Mickelson would be a shoo-in as PGA Tour player of the year, an award he has never won.
Fox nabs U.S. Open: The U.S. Open is leaving NBC for Fox starting in 2015, the U.S. Golf Association announcing it signed a 12-year agreement with the Fox network and Fox Sports 1 as the domestic partner for the U.S. Open and the rest of the USGA championships. The bid was reportedly about $100 million a year; the previous contract was $37 million. "You can't just fall out of a tree and do the U.S. Open," NBC golf commentator Johnny Miller said. "I guess the money was more important than the performance. No way they can step in and do the job we were doing. It's impossible.''