KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Rory McIlroy’s news conference was going long – shocker, we know – and so Justin Thomas, waiting on deck, posted up at the back of interview tent to listen in.
McIlroy’s final question was asked over Zoom. It was about the 2012 PGA Championship, and how significant of a moment that was in McIlroy’s young career to earn a second major. After eyeing Thomas in the back, McIlroy sensed an opportunity and executed, with surgical precision, what might become his best shot of the week.
“Yeah, it was huge,” he said, leaning into the second part of his answer, his eyes focused on Thomas. “A lot of guys have won one major, but it’s a big hurdle to get to the second. It was good to get that monkey off my back. I definitely didn’t want to be stuck on one for a long time, so happy to get that second.”
Thomas, the 2017 PGA champ, could only shake his head.
“Well played,” he sighed.
After the presser, McIlroy lingered on the dais for an extra moment. The four-time major champ opened his arms and embraced Thomas.
Given a chance to offer a rebuttal a few minutes later, Thomas swallowed his pride and took the high road – well, sort of.
“I can’t really say too much,” he said, “other than it’s great to see him win. I know it’s been a really long time for him, so I’m glad to see him win.”
Ah, yes, another subtle but well-calculated dig – the victory at Wells Fargo was McIlroy’s first since November 2019. Thomas had won three events during that span.
“But at the same time,” Thomas said, “I really don’t want to egg him on because usually when he wins, he likes to reel some off, and with a lot of big tournaments coming up, I don’t really want to poke the bear.”