Golf is a complex game of many parts. Rory McIlroy does many of those parts extraordinarily well.

He’s a generationally talented driver of the ball.

Despite some turbulence in the early part of the season, he’s an elite iron player.

His putting and chipping are vastly underrated.

But every tour player has one area they wish was better. For Rory, it’s always been his distance wedge shots. The scoring shots; the ones outside pitching range, but inside full swing range.

“As you can imagine, when I drive the ball well, I have a lot of wedges in my hand,” Rory said here at Valhalla Golf Club before the 2014 PGA Championship. “I wasn’t being efficient enough. I wasn’t taking advantage of some of the drives I was hitting.”

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That’s been the story so far for Rory ten years later, too.

The World No. 2 comes into this PGA Championship ranked 95th in approaches from 50-125 yards, but it’s been trending up in recent weeks. And during his opening round, five-under 66 on Thursday at Valhalla, on a day when he lost more than 1.2 strokes to the field with his driving, it was the undisputed strength of his game.

Rory’s Thursday wedge numbers

  • McIlroy faced seven shots inside 150 yards on Thursday, three of which came inside 120 yards.
  • He birdied three of those holes and hit four of those shots inside 10 feet.
  • He made one bogey, which came after driving his ball into a fairway bunker.
  • He gained a combined 1.24 shots on the field with those shots
  • His average proximity on the wedge shots inside 120 yards was 13’6”, which would rank him second on tour from that range behind only Scottie Scheffler.

The wedge thought that’s working

In short, Rory did well with his wedges on Thursday. This area of the game was an area he and Butch Harmon addressed when McIlroy paid him a visit earlier this year. Butch’s diagnosis was that Rory was hitting the ball too high with his wedges.

On Thursday, McIlroy said he’s counteracting this by trying to feel like the clubface stays more closed and pointing at the ball on the backswing. That keeps the ball flight lower and more penetrating.

“I want to have the feeling of strength in the club face on the way back, and then try to keep that strength so that it forces me to really get out of the way on the downswing,” McIlroy said on Thursday. “That’s the thought with the wedges and with the irons.”

It’s early, but it seems to be working. A good sign for him, and perhaps an early warning sign for the rest of the field.

Main image: Andy Lyons