Rory McIlroy has won everything there is to win since lifting his fourth major championship title in 2014, yet it seems he still has unfulfilled potential.
The last two seasons have seen McIlroy become the most consistent golfer in the world, particularly in the majors. But seven top-8 finishes in his last eight major championships have failed to produce that elusive fifth major and he enters 2024 hoping to finally end a decade long drought.
Tiger Woods said completing the career Grand Slam “was only a matter of time” for McIlroy earlier this year but he will drive down Magnolia Lane for his tenth attempt at finally winning a green jacket in April.
It feels like the Holywood man has been banging on the door but the most top-10 finishes of any player in the majors without winning since 2015 suggests there are a couple of bolts he still needs to loosen – especially since Brooks Koepka has sauntered to five majors in that timeframe.
McIlroy wrapped up his second successive Race to Dubai title and fifth European Order of Merit gong overall and while he has six-time winner Seve Ballesteros in his sights and the long term goal of catching eight-time Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie, rewards for year long consistency need to include major championship victories. Not to mention the three Fed Ex Cups he has won since 2014.
“I think it shows my consistency year-to-year. I think over the last ten years, I think I’ve won eight season-long titles between America and between here, so it just shows my level of consistency,” McIlroy said after receiving his fifth Race to Dubai title.
“I said to Harry on the last green, there’s a few guys that are able to beat me sort of one week or the next week but I don’t think there’s a lot of people that can beat me throughout the entire season.”
The penny has dropped for the 34-year-old in terms of what he needs to do to win that elusive fifth major championship. Stepping away from the PGA Tour board last week was a start to get rid of an unnecessary distraction.
While he is an almost guaranteed certainty to compete for major glory every Sunday there is no doubt that a lack of killer instinct in final rounds has cost him two major championships and a chance to have his career viewed differently.
A cold putter and shaved edges have been features of the 2022 Open Championship and the 2023 US Open Championship, both weeks where it seems McIlroy snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. In truth, he has done very little wrong but not done enough to get over the line.
McIlroy’s story in the majors sometimes it’s difficult to know whether to laugh or cry. Still, it’s an emotional rollercoaster you don’t want to get off!
“I’ve been happy with the year. If I looked back on one thing, I’ll rue that miss at L.A. I had a great opportunity there to pick up another major and I didn’t. But I’m still not going to let that take away from the fact that it’s been another really consistent, solid year with some really good performances,” McIlroy explained.
McIlroy’s consistency is admirable but it brings around some rather damning stats on major championship Sunday nights after his latest near miss to leave fans wondering if it will ever happen? Then they think ‘surely it will happen you can’t be that consistent and get one over the line?’ After all he was beaten by Cameron Smith who just blitzed the field on the final day in St Andrews and a rookie who held his nerve and had a week in Los Angeles.
However, they all putted better than Rory. The margins are minuscule, a couple of holed putts here or there is all he has been lacking over the last two seasons, ironically during two years where his wedge play and putting has been much improved.
There have been too many images of McIlroy on major Sundays like the one accompanying this piece.
“It’s just about trying to be a little more clinical when I get to those weeks where I have chances to win,” he continued. “Overall, it’s been another really solid year. Stroke average has been great and I’ve played really good golf, really consistent. Hopefully more of the same going into next year and beyond.”
It’s been ten long years. But at 34 time is not quite starting to run out on him. However, the depth in golf has never been stronger and the emergence of Ludvig Åberg as another sure thing just adds another layer of excellence to the never ending wave of young players coming through and provides another threat that McIlroy has to deal with.