McIlroy’s Masters hangover a Major hurdle to overcome

John Craven

Rory McIlroy in Rochester (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Missed cut at The Players. Missed cut at the Masters. T47 at Quail Hollow where he top-10’d nine times, including three wins, in his previous 11 starts. They’re the form figures for Rory McIlroy heading into this week’s PGA Championship. It doesn’t exactly scream fifth Major, does it?

Yet nine years since he last collected one of golf’s biggest prizes and the bookies make McIlroy a clear third favourite for the Wanamaker Trophy behind Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler at Oak Hill.

I wish I shared their optimism.


A consequence of being Rory McIlroy is that regardless of form, you don’t get the luxury of passing by a radar on Major week undetected. That he ranks 172nd on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained Putting and 193rd in Driving Accuracy doesn’t matter. Rory’s reputation supersedes the numbers that suggest parting company with a hard-earned tenner and expecting a return on investment this week is anything but a fool’s errand.

That’s not to say he can’t win, of course. As former caddie JP Fitzgerald once reminded him when things started to spiral at the 2017 Open, ‘You’re Rory McIlroy, what the f*** are you doing?’

Six years later and he remains Rory McIlroy. A generational driver of the golf ball who, at one time, not only won Majors but cantered to them head and shoulders above the field. Still just 34, there is no doubt that he retains the physical attributes to enjoy such dominance again, but while the body is willing, the mind must be more scrambled than ever after a confidence-shattering Masters showing where McIlroy’s Grand Slam hopes ended before they began.

It’s hard not to worry for McIlroy… relatively speaking of course. He has the family, the fame, the fortune. Life is pretty good, but for a career that will ultimately be judged by its Major count, McIlroy, given his talent, has arguably underachieved with four, and for the first time in a long time, I feel like a fifth is further away than ever.

It was only a few weeks ago that it all felt so different. McIlroy arrived at Augusta needing to go just one place better than the year before. He claimed to have shed the scar-tissue that for years dragged like an anchor, while his credentials were further boosted, albeit by another near-miss as Cam Smith pipped him at the post at The Open.

Singed by the heat of battle at St Andrews, at least McIlroy came away with hard evidence that he still has what it takes to get over the line. It didn’t feel like he lost the tournament, rather the Australian won it. Sure you could argue that McIlroy played too conservatively but the 150th Open at the Home of Golf was a massive occasion that didn’t get to McIlroy.

The 2023 Masters most definitely did.

This week at Oak Hill will tell an awful lot about where McIlroy’s head is at. If his game allows and he has the courage to start well and put himself into contention early, then it could prove a great week that renders this article to be one of the most woefully misguided predictions of all time. But something tells me we could be in for a patented Rory top-10; that somehow not getting himself into the mix will be easier to accept than getting there and falling short.

As a massive McIlroy fan, I hope I’m wrong. In fact, I hope someone prints off this article and hands it to him with a blown-up picture of my face so he can stick it on a dartboard and destroy it, whatever it takes to light the fire that’s been missing on a Major stage for too long. It’s that one ingredient, maybe the dog in him? An obsessive drive ala Michael Jordan who made things personal to extract his optimum on the court, even when they weren’t.

It’s easier said than done obviously but if McIlroy still has grand designs on a green jacket, it’s my opinion that he’ll need another Major to land first. And as much and all as I hope it happens, I just don’t expect the fifth domino to fall this week in Rochester.

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