Before we dive into Rory McIlroy securing his fourth order of merit crown on the formerly named European Tour, and adding that to his third finish atop the PGA Tour season-long standings, and accomplishing both of those feats in the same season for the first time, and sitting atop the world rankings, and a declaration that hints that his best is yet to come, let’s talk about something potentially truly incredible.
Though also possibly impossible.
“Not much downtime, but the downtime that I do have, I’ll just try to get away from it,” McIlroy said Sunday. “I vowed to turn my phone off for a week or so. It would be nice to just really get away from everything for a little while, so hopefully I’ll be able to do that.”
Godspeed. It’s admirable. But let’s stay with the goal-setting theme for a sec.
As noted above, Sunday for McIlroy was memorable. A fourth-place finish at the DP World Tour Championship, after a final-round 68 on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates, gave him his fourth DP World Tour ranking title, and that comes on the heels of his victory in late August at the PGA Tour’s Tour Championship. It’s a unique double; only Henrik Stenson, in 2013, had earned crowns on both tours in the same year. McIlroy is also world No. 1, a position he rose to last month.
Good stuff. But you should pay most of your attention to the last 12 words of this exchange afterward on Sunday with Sky Sports on-course reporter Tim Barter.
“You were golfer of the decade at the end of 2019, and when I chatted to you at that time, you said you thought you could take your game to the next level in the next decade,” Barter started. “Do you feel like you’re on that journey now, because it looks like you’re playing well in all departments?”
“Yeah, I think one of the things I’m really proud of over the last few years is I don’t feel I have to rely on one aspect of my game,” McIlroy said. “I think if my driving isn’t there, then my putter bails me out. If my putter isn’t there, my iron play bails me out. I feel like when you get to this level, it’s like, OK, how can you make those incremental improvements to get better, and I think my goal has been to just become a more complete golfer and I feel like I’m on the journey to doing that.
“But I definitely — I’m as complete a golfer as I feel like I’ve ever been.”
Whoa now. That’s a dirty dozen. You know the takeaway here. A player who had earned, before this year, six other season-long titles, and four majors, and 19 other PGA Tour victories, believes only now he’s hit his stride? Damn. Maybe the statistics will tell you otherwise, but with statements like these, you should trust the source some.
Notably, McIlroy still talks about where he was at with his game in early April; “I was speaking to Harry [Diamond, his caddie] about it on the last couple of holes, and you know, he said to me, ‘A long way from San Antonio.’” Indeed. Then, he had missed the cut at the Texas Open. Afterward, he won twice and top-10’d in every major, with a near-miss at the Open Championship.
Changes were made, though he believes some putting improvement created almost a trickle-down effect throughout the rest of his game.
“I used to rely very heavily on one or two aspects of the game where now, I feel like now I’m pretty efficient at all areas of the game,” McIlroy said.
“And that’s been a huge thing this year. I think when you know that you’re a putter or you know that you’re going to hole your fair share of putts, I think it takes pressure off your ball-striking. You don’t feel like you have to hit it quite as close, and then off the tee, you don’t feel as under pressure to hit fairways to then hit a green to give yourself a chance. I feel like if you’re a good putter, it can sort of feed through the rest of your game and that’s how it’s felt this year.”
It’s here where we’ll turn to next year. And goals, though not the cellphone kind.
Another major? When 2023 rolls around, it will be a whopping nine years since he’s won one of those. The career grand slam? He’s never won the Masters, though his game should set up well at Augusta National.
If McIlroy truly believes he’s as unlacking as he’s ever been, it’s all in play.
“I think in terms of improvement, you can improve on everything,” he said. “There are certain things that I can improve on. You know, I still think there’s room for improvement with my wedges. There’s certainly — you know, there’s room for improvement in all aspects of my game, certain shots, different trajectories. I’ll continue to just keep trying to improve on all of that.
“And then I guess for me, it’s hard to just pinpoint the majors and whatever. But you know, that’s the last thing over the course of the last few years, it’s the one thing that I haven’t achieved that I would love to achieve again.
“So you know, we get four opportunities a year. I want to make sure that I’m in the best possible shape and the best possible position to take advantage of those four opportunities.”