This is yet another new version of Rory McIlroy we're watching, writes Alex Perry. And, at last, something just feels right
Three weeks ago, Rory McIlroy struggled to hold back his tears after picking up his first point of the Ryder Cup as his European team were annihilated by their American counterparts.
In his very next start, his putter caught fire en route to a one-shot victory at the CJ Cup at Summit.
Suddenly, the Whistling Straits abomination feels like a significant turning point in the Northern Irishman’s career.
The CJ Cup is the latest addition to a CV that is off-the-scale good. Sometimes you need to remind yourself just how good.
McIlroy has won four majors, three World Golf Championships, five FedEx Cup Play-off events, two Tour Championships on each side of the Atlantic, as well as both the PGA and European Tour’s flagship events in the Players and BMW PGA. It’s 29 wins across golf’s major tours.
And then of course there are four Ryder Cup wins in six appearances.
Other than the Masters, McIlroy has literally won everything there is to win. But far too often it’s forgotten about because all we bang on about is the fact he hasn’t won a major for seven years.
He now has 20 on the PGA Tour alone. Only seven of them are so-called “regular events”. (And even they are the bigger ones with three wins at Quail Hollow, one at PGA National, and one at Bay Hill.)
McIlroy is just the seventh player to reach the 20 mark on the US circuit before turning 33. Check out this roll call: Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson.
He’s now tied 35th overall with Hale Irwin, Greg Norman, Johnny Revolta and Doug Sanders. Every victory edges him past legend after legend of the game.
Just for another bit of just-how-good-he-is context. Reaching 20 wins equals lifetime membership of the PGA Tour – but you must also give 15 years service. McIlroy has done it with two to spare.
But if he was to end his career today, would he be satisfied?
In 2017, he told ESPN: “I’d love to give you an answer and say my life is already fulfilled, with everything that’s happened, and everything that’s going to happen in the future, by starting a family and all that.
And we all know what’s missing. “If I didn’t have a green jacket,” he added, “there would be a tiny piece that would just be missing. It really would be. And yeah, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be fulfilled if I didn’t get it.”
Yes this might just be the CJ Cup at a wide-open birdie fest in the Vegas desert during the off-season, but this felt different from McIlroy. He looked comfortable. There was never any panic. He stood on the par-five 18th with a one-shot lead over Collin Morikawa and plodded his way to a par that would confirm victory.
As he walked off the finishing hole at Summit, he confirmed our suspicions. The Ryder Cup, he explained, was something of a reset.
“There was a lot of reflection in the last couple of weeks,” he explained. “And this is what I need to do. I need to play golf, I need to simplify it, and I need to just be me.
“For the last few months I was trying to be someone else to try to get better and I realised that being me is enough and I can do things like this.”
McIlroy’s burning for that elusive green jacket will still be there. But he’s happier now. He’s more content and accepting of what the golf gods throw at him. It’s no coincidence that McIlroy’s fresh outlook coincides with having long-term coach Michael Bannon back on his team.
Forget talk of McIlroy 2.0. He’s gone into double figures on that front and ended up back to somewhere near the original.
And, at last, it all feels right again.
Roll on Augusta.
- RELATED: What’s in Rory McIlroy’s bag?
Rickie Fowler hasn’t won since early 2019 and this time last year had hit rock bottom. The Californian led going into the final round at Summit and, while he didn’t quite manage to get over the line, it’s great to see his hard work over the past few weeks pay off.
Fitz bounces back
Speaking of European players who didn’t have a good Ryder Cup…
Matt Fitzpatrick went 0-3-0 at Whistling Straits and ended his week by fatting it in the drink to hand the US the widest margin of victory in the modern era of the competition.
But the mark of a true champion, they say, is how they respond, and Fitzpatrick cruised to a three-shot win over Min Woo Lee and Sebastian Soderberg in his very next start at the Andalucia Masters.
“It’s on the bucket list to win around Valderrama with the history that it has,” the Sheffieldite (Sheffieldian?) said after his seventh European Tour trophy to continue his run of winning in every season since 2015.
Before play got underway at Valderrama, Lee was joined by Wilco Nienaber, Nicolai Hojgaard and Sean Crocker in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for playing a golf hole in the quickest time and, well, I don’t want to spoil it for you…
Hull loves NYC
Charley Hull made it an English double on either side of the Atlantic with victory in the third Aramco Team Series event at Glen Oaks in New York.
Hull pipped World No 1 Nelly Korda to bag her third LET title, while Jessica Korda – playing with Karo Lampert, Lina Boqvist and amateur Alex O’Laughlin – won the team event with a play-off victory played under floodlights.
My colleague Steve Carroll was a guest host of The Slam podcast this week, chatting to Ryder Cup legend Tony Jacklin who regaled us with fascinating stories from his career. It’s well worth 50 minutes and 35 seconds of your time.
Right, that’s enough from me. Remember, you can follow me on Twitter, if that’s your thing, and have a good week, whatever you’re up to.