The PGA TOUR descends on the treacherous beauty that is the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island this week for the season's second major: the 103rd PGA Championship.
It's been nine years since the course hosted the PGA Championship, but Rory McIlroy's recent return to the winner's circle at Quail Hollow makes it feel like it was just yesterday.
McIlroy absolutely bludgeoned the field the last time Kiawah hosted, running away with his second career major title by a record eight shots in 2012. That victory in South Carolina came just over a year after the Northern Ireland star captured his first major by a shocking eight strokes at the U.S. Open at Congressional.
There was no doubt McIlroy had the talent to be one of the world's best golfers even before he started racking up majors, but the manner in which he added those trophies to his ever-expanding case signaled that the golfing world was witnessing a legend in the making.
Ahead of Thursday's action at Kiawah, we look back at McIlroy's romp to victory in 2012 - and perhaps foreshadow what could be the outcome yet again.
McIlroy came to Kiawah as the third-ranked player in the world and was riding a rich vein of form since running away with his first major at the 2011 U.S. Open; he had followed that win with a whopping 16 top-10 showings in 26 events leading up to the PGA Championship.
If there was one area of McIlroy's game to criticize in 2012, it was his results in the opening three majors of the season. A tie for 40th at the Masters represented his best finish, and he entered play grading his season as a "B" to that point. But with Kiawah's 7,676-yard layout set to play as what was then the longest in PGA TOUR history, the long-hitting McIlroy was a trendy pick to emerge at the oceanside course.
While McIlroy's dominance in 2012 certainly doesn't seem surprising now, it may shock many to learn that Luke Donald entered the week as World No. 1. The Englishman currently sits 483rd in the world as the PGA Championship returns to Kiawah, and he isn't even in the field after failing to qualify.
There were no Nike swooshes anywhere near McIlroy, either, as he had yet to ink the first of his multiple megadeals with the apparel brand.
Excellent scoring conditions eased the difficult layout to open the tournament, and McIlroy was up to the task of going low. Though he couldn't quite match the sparkling 6-under 66 fired by Carl Pettersson, a 5-under 67 was good enough to see him in a four-way tie for second after 18 holes. Solid opening rounds have been a staple of McIlroy's major wins: He's led or been within one shot of top spot after 18 holes in all four of his victories.
Kiawah showed its teeth that Friday, with blustery winds off the Atlantic laying waste to the field. The average score on the day was just over 78 - the hardest single-day number since the tournament moved to a stroke-play format in 1958. But it's probably no surprise that two elite players in Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods moved up the board on a day when everyone else struggled, firing 69 and 71, respectively, to share a three-way lead with Pettersson at 4-under. McIlroy battled the difficult conditions with a 3-over 75 to sit two off the pace.
Adverse weather was in the forecast for Saturday afternoon, with several players near the top expected to see their rounds cut short due to thunderstorms. McIlroy, then 23, made the most of the golf he could get in, scorching the front nine with five birdies to sit tied for the lead when play was halted for the day. The man at the top was Singh, who, with 26 years on McIlroy, was attempting to become golf's oldest major champion.
McIlroy didn't let up for the conclusion of his round early Sunday, getting to 7-under-par after 54 holes to sit three clear heading into the final round. Singh faded back to 2-under with a 74, leaving only Pettersson within three shots.
The final afternoon served as nothing but a coronation for McIlroy, as he put together one of the most outstanding closing rounds in major championship history. With a bogey-free 66 around the challenging layout, McIlroy extended his advantage even further, capping things with an emphatic birdie on the 72nd hole to make the final margin eight strokes - breaking Jack Nicklaus' record for the event in the process.
It wasn't just the win that captured the sporting world's attention; it was how McIlroy had once again lapped the field in a major. With the victory at Kiawah, his first two major championships had come by an astonishing 16 strokes combined.
The way he slammed the door in the final round wasn't lost on McIlroy, either.
"It was a great round of golf. I'm speechless," he said afterward. "It's just been incredible. I had a good feeling about it at the start. I never imagined I'd do this."
McIlroy wasn't content to let the PGA Championship be the last triumph of his 2012 season, as he utterly dominated the remainder of the schedule. He played eight more events on the calendar, winning three more times and managing two other top-three finishes. He completed the campaign as the only European ever to win four events in a season on the PGA TOUR.