By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOUISVILLE Kentucky (Reuters) - With his confidence sky-high and his golf "in really good shape", Rory McIlroy says he has never driven the ball better as he heads into this week's PGA Championship fresh from wins in his last two tournaments.
The Northern Irishman clinched his third career major in wire-to-wire fashion at last month's British Open, then landed his first World Golf Championships (WGC) title at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday.
McIlroy is especially delighted with the state of his mental approach to the game, though he is wary of any media hype that the sport is entering a 'Rory era' of individual dominance.
"I've had a great run of golf and I've played well over the past few months," the newly crowned world number one told reporters at Valhalla Golf Club on Tuesday while preparing for the season's final major.
"I said at the start of the year that golf was looking for someone to put their hand up and sort of become one of the dominant players in the game. I felt like I had the ability to do that.
"It's just nice to be able to win a few tournaments and get back to where I feel like I should be, which is near the top of the world rankings, competing in majors and winning golf tournaments."
McIlroy, who regained the world number one ranking from Australian Adam Scott with his WGC victory at Firestone on Sunday, felt that any talk of a new era was premature.
"Sometimes I feel that people are too quick to jump to conclusions and jump on the bandwagon, jump on certain things," said the 25-year-old from Holywood in County Down.
"I'm not necessarily sure you can call that an era or the start of an era, but I'm just really happy with where my golf game is at the minute and I just want to try and continue that for as long as possible.
"People can say what they want to say, that's fine. But I can't read too much into it. I just need to continue to practice hard and play well."
McIlroy won his first major title by a staggering eight shots at the 2011 U.S. Open, then added a second with the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, where he also triumphed by eight.
"Historically, the PGA Championship has probably been my best major," said the Northern Irishman, who has recorded four-top 10s at the event in just five career starts.
"The win at Kiawah in 2012, but then a couple of third-place finishes ... it's been a tournament that I've really enjoyed and a tournament that I've had some success at. Hopefully I can continue that trend this week."
Asked which area of his game gave him the most confidence at the moment, McIlroy replied: "My approach to the game, my mental state. That's really what I'm happy about.
"I'm not dwelling on the results that I've had and I'm just trying to keep moving forward, focus on the next week.
"People can talk about my driving or how I'm swinging the club, but mentally, I just feel like I'm in a really good place."
McIlroy is now driving the golf ball prodigious distances while sacrificing very little accuracy off the tee, the result of hard work in the gym to strengthen his body.
"I'm definitely hitting it longer over the past couple years," he said. "I've always had the speed and I've always had the power, but I haven't really had the strength or the stability to hold on to it my whole way through the swing.
"I've put on three kilograms of muscle in the last eight weeks, so that definitely helps. I'm the heaviest I've ever been. I don't feel like I need to put on any more distance.
"If I can hit it over 300 yards and in the fairway most of the time, I'm happy enough with that. That gives me plenty of opportunities to hit it close to flags and try and make birdies. The past couple of weeks, it's the best I've driven the ball."
McIlroy will tee off in Thursday's opening round at Valhalla in the company of the year's other major winners - American Bubba Watson (Masters) and German Martin Kaymer (U.S. Open).
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)