The Rory dilemma playing out this week in San Antonio

Mark McGowan

Rory McIlroy (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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As journalists, we’re supposed to be impartial, to call it as we see it, and not to let personal favour colour the output. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have our favourites. Contrary to popular belief, we are human after all.

That’s the way I view Rory McIlroy. He is a favourite, for sure. Sometimes even the number-one favourite, and I’m certainly not alone in the profession when it comes to desperately hoping to see him join Jon Rahm and Jim Nantz in the Butler Cabin after the final day at Augusta National next week.

That’s the way it is most weeks Rory plays; I want him to win. And there are a number of reasons for it. For one, he always makes for good content. We’re never stuck for things to write when Rory wins, we’re never digging deep to clutch the loose ends of a story angle, never at a loss for talking points on a Podcast, and never short of readers or listeners who are equally interested in diving-deep into all things McIlroy.

A second reason is that professional golf, in general, is a more interesting sport when Rory plays well because of how he plays the game. He plays fast, he plays aggressive, and he does things with a golf ball that only a select few of his peers are capable of.

But this week I find myself conflicted as he completes his final Masters tune up at the Valero Texas Open. I want him to play well, sure. I want his game in good stead by the time he drives down Magnolia Lane next Thursday. I want him confident, steely-eyed and with that killer instinct. I want the Rory that we saw for three days at Augusta back in 2011, the Rory that we saw for four rounds two months later at Congressional, the Rory that reeled off back-to-back majors with a WGC in between in 2014, and most of all, but most of all, I want a Rory that’s in contention by the time he reaches Amen Corner on Masters Sunday.

But do I want him to win this week? I’m not so sure.

The weight of expectation is something that’s often crippled him at Augusta National. I can feel it, I’m sure you can too, so it’s little surprise that he feels it. And confidence and expectation are two unfriendly bedfellows in a small single, each battling for the centre-ground, attempting to push the other to the floor.

Winning the Valero Texas Open would be his first win on US soil since October 2022, would signal that his game is now primed for the Green Jacket assault at Augusta after several average at best weeks since retuning to the States from the Middle East, and would see his confidence reserves topped up before boarding the flight to Georgia.

But it would push the expectation sky high as well. He’s delivered under the weight of expectation before, never more so than at Valhalla in 2014 when he was the standout favourite for the PGA Championship and, having temporarily lost his grip on the tournament in the final round, refused to be beaten. But he’s also crumbled under it, several times at Augusta and most notably at the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

This may all be a moot point should one of the poor rounds that have blighted his 2024 PGA Tour season thus far arrive today or tomorrow and a Sunday victory is out of the question, but I’ve a sneaky suspicion that it won’t. I think he’s going to have four good days, I think he’s going to come very close to winning and I think that he’s going to leave San Antonio full of confidence but with expectation levels to rival.

And will that be a good thing or not? Only time will tell.

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