While the world readies to lift its Covid-19 hit spirits for the Christmas festive season, Rory McIlroy has spoken of the poorest year of his career. So poor, McIlroy graded his 13th full season in the pro ranks as a ‘C’.
McIlroy contested 17 events in the US across 2020 while for the first time since turning pro in late 2007, he’s not teed-up in a ‘regular’ European Tour event over the course of a 12-month season. His best was a third in his first event of 2020 at the Farmers Insurance Open while McIlroy’s next best was some nine months later with a T5th at the recent Masters. McIlroy did not win in 2020 and that is only the second year (2017 being the other) when he’s not had at least one worldwide victory since his pro debut success at the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic.
“It’s been a strange year… ‘C’,” is how McIlroy graded his season to Golfweek magazine, but he didn’t reach that conclusion only because of more major disappointment.
“No, I had a great year last year and I didn’t win a major. I came out of the back of last year playing some of the best golf I’d ever played, so I don’t at all think any year when you don’t win a major is a disappointment. Any year you don’t win a tournament is a disappointment, and that’s obviously why this year is disappointing. It’s hard because I felt like I had a nice bit of momentum going at the start of the year. I was playing well and then everything stopped. And I struggled with the restart. It maybe took me longer to adjust to it than some other people.”
Indeed, in the nine events since the June 11th lifting of the lockdown up to and including the Tour Championship, McIlroy produced just one top-10 and that was a share of 8th place in the final event of the 2019/20 season in Atlanta.
“I struggled mentally getting myself in the right place to play competitive golf,” McIlroy said. “Every time I went out there for the first few week’s I just felt like I was playing a practice round. It felt like it didn’t count, like it didn’t matter. That was the overriding feeling I had. But then you get to the end of every week and boys are winning trophies, and it’s not as if it didn’t count.
“By the end I got it figured out. And it’s not as if it’s going anywhere — you look at what’s happening and when we start next year there’s still not going to be any crowds. It was just an adjustment, and I didn’t adjust quite as fast as some other guys did.”
One of those somewhat critical of McIlroy was 78-year American Tom Weiskopf who remarked post-Masters that the current World No.4 lacked a ‘Tiger attitude’. This was put to McIlroy by Golfweek.
“I’ve never met Tom Weiskopf in my life, he’s never met me,” said McIlroy. “So, he’s obviously making a statement based on what he sees from the outside, but I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. I’ve shown throughout my career that I care, that I want to win, that I want to be the best. And I’ve been the best.
“It’s not as if I’m out there in the clouds and not thinking about it. I try my heart out on every single shot, every single tournament that I play. I maybe deal better with disappointment than I used to. I saw the interview where he said he sees no frustration. Like, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I mean, look at the Zozo. I’m breaking clubs, so there’s a bit of frustration there. Obviously, he didn’t watch that round of golf.”
Regardless, being singled out for all the wrong reasons certainly gets McIlroy’s back-up as was evident post-Masters when he let slip any chance of victory in posting an opening round of 75 to be 10 shots back in the company of eventual Augusta champion, Dustin Johnson.
“I had a crap start at the Masters and shot myself out of it. But leaving there Sunday night, finishing fifth and shooting three rounds in the 60s to come back, I was proud of myself for that,” said McIlroy.
“Obviously, I was kicking myself that I didn’t get off to the greatest start, but I made the most of the situation I was in. I don’t see that as a bad thing. If that’s the perception, that’s totally fine. I care what the people around me think and they know more about how I feel and how I want to make the most out of this career I have.
“I certainly don’t feel as if I’m done. I’m 31 years old and I’ve got at least the next half of my career still to go. I don’t feel like I’m that far away. I’d be way more concerned if I’m missing cuts, but I haven’t missed a cut in over a year. Maybe with the level of golf I want to play that’s not something to shout about, but it shows it’s nearly there.”
With his 2020 season now well behind him, McIlroy has much to look forward to in 2021. It not only will mark the 10th anniversary of his first Major – the 2011 US Open but it will be the first time he will return to a major championship course where he won – Kiawah Island. McIlroy captured the 2012 PGA Championship on the South Carolina course and the venue is set to host the 2021 PGA Championship.
“A few more grey hairs,” he said smiling when asked the difference to then 23-year old mop-top compared to the now 31-year old father of one. “And they’re a bit shorter than they used to be. That run in 2012 when I won at Kiawah came off the back of not a lot of great golf. I missed the cut in the U.S. Open at Olympic, I barely made the cut at the Open. I was missing cuts.
“I had a great year in 2012, but people don’t remember there were quite a few struggles in the middle of the year. I got a top-5 in Akron the week before, got a bit of confidence and went and won Kiawah by eight. It was probably a bit more feast and famine in my game back then. I strive for this consistency in my game over the past few years, and I think I’ve found that. It’s not as if the bad is very bad. It gets me by. And the good is always in there.
“I can produce that explosive golf I’ve always had. The difference is that the lows definitely aren’t as low, but the highs I haven’t been able to reach in the biggest weeks. And you have to play your best golf to win major championships, you have to be 100% on your game.”