Commentary: How Rory won the Major that suits him leastJuly, 2014
He said he wouldn't change the way he plays for one week of the year but McIlroy is now the Open champion
It seems a strange thing to say about a Northern Irishman who grew up playing two of the world’s best links courses in Royal County Down and Royal Portrush but Rory McIlroy freely admits that his game is geared up towards the American Majors.
From a young age he has prepared a style of play designed to make him the ultimate modern tour professional based around a long, high, soaring, predominantly right-to-left ball flight. The 25-year-old hits full out more often than not because that helps him carry it further and stop it quicker.
Perfect for the modern championship course in the warm, sunny conditions the tour pros find week in, week out around the world.
The Open Championship, uniquely, calls for different skills – perseverance, craft, control of ball flight, imagination and acceptance that golf involves an element of chance.
Take being on the right side of the draw, a shining example of which helped McIlroy last week at Royal Liverpool.
At Augusta, they try to make it exactly the same year after year. At the Open, the conditions can change unrecognisably from one hour to the next.
Give extra credit, then, to the likes of Adam Scott and Shane Lowry – they had to contend with stronger wind on both the first two days where McIlroy’s half escaped.
In another year, it will doubtless work against the Northern Irishman – that’s just one of the many elements of the championship.
The stars aligned for McIlroy last week – and he was good enough to ake advantage of this and a couple of other significant breaks.
He actually played in kind conditions for all four rounds – and this in a week when there was plenty of weather about. So much so that on the Saturday the tee times were brought forward and play began simultaneously at the 1st and 10th. Not only did this stop any of the early starters making a charge while McIlroy was still eating breakfast, much more significant was that it meant he did not have to play in unpleasant conditions.
Tiger Woods, for one, could smile ruefully at that break – in 2002, at Muirfield, he was staring at a Grand Slam at the halfway point, perfectly placed two shots off the pace. That was until the infamous storm blew across East Lothian.
Tiger did not get the chance to tee off at 11am that morning.
Also in McIlroy’s favour was Hoylake being beautifully presented this year. The harder and fimer and crustier a links course gets, the more versatility and craft are required, the less important it is to hit long drives that are all through the air.
"Also in McIlroy’s favour was Hoylake being beautifully presented this year."
On Sunday we saw balls spinning back on the greens.
A warm and wet spring meant that Hoylake was greener than usual and although this was assuredly genuine links golf with firm some bounces, it was a far cry from Muirfield last year or this course in 2006.
As for matters in his own control, McIlroy’s preparation was much better this year than previously. He may have once said he wasn’t going to change his game for one week – and which of us haven’t said things on the spur of the moment that we later regret – but two weeks ago he went to County Down, 30 miles from his home town to reacquaint himelf with British seaside golf in the company of friends. The next stop was Hoylake for two rounds of reconnaissance. Then he went on to Royal Aberdeen for a week of competitive action in the Scottish Open. He would encounter an array of conditions over the four days and forewarned is forearmed.
He didn’t win in the north-east of Scotland but he travelled to the Wirral knowing more about his game and the challenges he might face in the Open.
On top of all this, he is a champion and he played brilliantly.
He is also streaky, as we should all know by now, and quite simply when he is at his best then few can live with him. Hoylake was one of those weeks.
When McIlroy switched to Nike at the beginning of last season, there was a lot of conjecture spoken and written about his equipment change.
In truth, there was a lot going on off the course – and still is – and what he was going through was nothing more than a recalibration and the vicissitudes of changing form.
As Cindy Davis, the president of Nike Golf, said late last year: “I think it was frustrating for Rory, because he’s been pretty vocal in saying it’s absolutely not the equipment. I think athletes go through times of growth and that’s what Rory has been doing. I think Rory McIlroy is going to have a phenomenal year. You can see it coming already.”
How right she was.