LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Rory McIlroy is on such a roll that it seems no one is formidable enough to stop him, not even Rory McIlroy.
He had a stern discussion with himself at the 11th hole of the PGA Championship on Thursday. The reigning British Open champion, coming off a dynamic win in the high-stakes WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday, appeared to have ruined a good first round. He had hit a hideous out-of-bounds shot on the way to a double-bogey 7 on No. 10 and followed that with a bogey.
Because he had fallen from 3 under to even par, any thought of approaching the leaders at 6 under seemed lost. So McIlroy let McIlroy have it.
"OK, you make a 7, that's fine. But you don't compound that error and make a bogey on the next hole with a three-putt," he said. "I was hot."
From then on, his putter and his swing grew hotter than his temper. By the time he was done, he had posted a 5-under 66, only one stroke behind Lee Westwood, Kevin Chappell and Ryan Palmer on a good scoring day at Valhalla Golf Club.
"I think you have to take whatever you are feeling inside and try and turn it into a positive," he said after birdieing four holes in a row and then missing an eagle putt by an inch on No. 18.
But he was able to joke about the fairway wood on the par-5 10th that went far left and incurred the stroke and distance penalty for out-of-bounds. "It sort of knocked me off track a little bit because it's one of the only bad shots I've hit in a few weeks," he said.
Of the recovery, he said, "It's just where I am with my golf game right now. I'm hitting the ball great, seeing good shots out there, holing putts. It's easier to get back in the right frame of mind after what happened on 10 and 11."
His charge overshadowed the play of Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer, each 1 under, playing with McIlroy in the PGA's traditional grouping of current major champions. It eclipsed the marquee threesome of Tiger Woods (3 over), Phil Mickelson (2 under) and Padraig Harrington (2 over).
Other than Jim Furyk (5 under) and McIlroy, no one in the top 19 Thursday ever has won a major. It was a good day for Westwood, who is 0-for-66 lifetime in golf's four big events. "I've played better rounds of golf, but I was really pleased with today," he said. "A bit of momentum is a wonderful thing."
Chappell has not finished inside the top 10 at any PGA Tour stop this year. "There's been a few, let's say, screws loose that needed some tightening to get me near the leader board," the 28-year-old from California said. "I think I'm a lot more mature today than I was January 1."
Palmer, 37, a Texan, began his day on the back nine, making two birdies -- coming within two feet of a hole-in-one on the par-3 11th. He was so hot that he thought about becoming the first one ever to shoot 62 in a major, but he finished bogey-par for 65.
But McIlroy put a charge into the tournament's atmosphere with his finish. No wonder Jack Nicklaus recently said McIlroy eventually can win 15 to 20 majors. "People are going to get asked about me. They are going to give their opinion," he said. "If that's Jack's opinion, he has a high opinion of me. Look, I've always said, 'I'm on three [majors]. I want to get to four.' Hopefully I can get to four this week and then keep going from there."