Rory’s journey back to the top shows his longevity

Ronan MacNamara
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Rory McIlroy (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy’s career will be defined by how many major titles he wins by the time he puts the clubs away. Is four major championships enough for a player of his ability? Has he underachieved in winning four in three years but none since 2014? Or would we hold him in the regard he deserves had these four majors been spread out over a decade? 

That debate will rumble on until if and when he wins his fifth major gong but what can’t be denied is that McIlroy’s longevity in the game is something special. 

Since soaring to the summit of the world of golf for the first time after winning the Honda Classic in February 2012 he is the only player from that top-10 to still be inside the top-10 in 2022. In fact you can classify many of the following players careers as ‘over.’ 

Luke Donald world number two at the time is now a lowly 568th while majorless LIV outcast Lee Westwood is 107th. Medinah hero from that year Martin Kaymer is 399th and Steve Stricker is 964th. 

US Open champion from that year Webb Simpson is on course to drop outside the top-100 at 98th while Jason Day is 146th.  

Dustin Johnson is 26th and might still be inside the top-10 had he not fecked off to LIV. Charl Schwartzel is 141st while Hunter Mahan has collapsed to a whopping 1874th in the world. 

Last night McIlroy ascended to world number one for the ninth time in ten years courtesy of his 23rd PGA Tour win as he successfully defended his CJ Cup title – a tournament that started this journey 12 months ago. 

Twelve months ago the Holywood native was at a very low ebb – relatively speaking of course 13th in the world is no disaster. But 2021 was a year where he fell as far as 16th in the world rankings and had been truly abysmal at the Ryder Cup. He acted immediately bringing an end to that ill-fated stint with Pete Cowen and held off Collin Morikawa. 

Before the COVID pandemic struck and brought golf to a standstill, McIlroy was playing better golf than anyone and after a cooling period he has completed the journey to get back to where he was. At world number one. 

The statistics also back up the 33-year-old’s longevity in this sport where you can easily lose your game overnight. 

Since 2011 he has a 56.3% conversion rate of 54-hole leads, the third highest in that period – Tiger Woods stands alone at 100%. 

It’s McIlroy’s sixth straight season with at least one win – on his season debut no less! He also joins Tiger Woods (2008 Farmers Insurance Open) as the only reigning FedEx Cup champions to win in his first start of the next season. 

Rory has been on “the journey to get the best out of myself” for the last twelve months and as I always say, the LIV golf situation has been good for him. 

It has rekindled the fire in the belly, he’s been a different player. Often criticised for not holding golf as his number one priority as major after major passed him by over the last eight years, he’s looked back to his best. 

His post round interview showed how much this win meant to him. Sure, it was a little anticlimactic but that didn’t stop him holding back the tears when the mic was put in front of him. 

Rory always plays better when he has a point to prove. How did he respond from his 2011 Masters collapse? Obliterated everyone to win the US Open at a canter and he has been in unbelievable form since losing the Open Championship in July. 

He has taken the world of golf upon his shoulders, and it hasn’t weighed him down. To end the year as world number one would be quite fitting. 

It’s been a couple of years since it really felt like McIlroy was in the arena heading to Augusta. The hype train will be off the rails from now until that week in April. 

It seems inevitable that he will arrest his major drought in 2023 which could open the floodgates to a similarly prolific run he enjoyed a decade ago. 

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