McIlroy red-hot favourite in Canada, but how much do regular Tour wins matter?

Mark McGowan

Rory McIlroy (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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As seasons go, Rory McIlroy’s has been pretty decent by anyone’s standards. We’re not yet in June and he’s already won three times, kicking off with the Dubai Desert Classic back in January, and then securing back-to-back PGA Tour victories, the first alongside Shane Lowry at the Zurich Classic and then nabbing his first PGA Tour Signature Event at his favourite stomping ground of Quail Hollow.

And it would take a brave man to bet against him making it win number four this week at the RBC Canadian Open after his last visit to Hamilton Country Club back in 2019 resulted in a seven-stroke victory where he bogeyed the 72nd hole to sign off with a closing 61 when a career-first 59 was a distinct possibility.

The course that awaits him this time round will be a little different since the design team of Mackenzie & Ebert’s course renovations followed almost immediately after he’d been presented with the trophy, but he’s still the clear pre-tournament favourite.

The problem is that even if Rory gets 2024 win number four this week, and reels off two or three more by the time his clubs go into hibernation for the winter, his year is still going to be judged on major championship performance and he’s oh-for-two on that front and hasn’t been a factor on major Sunday.

Harsh? Maybe, but that’s what 26 PGA Tour wins, an additional nine European Tour wins, and four major titles by the age of 25 gets you.

Still, it’s better to be playing well coming into the majors than to be hacking it around and hoping to catch lightning in a bottle that week.

You have to go all the way back to the 2023 Masters to find the last time McIlroy played a golf tournament and had the weekend off, and for a player whose talent was always evident but often lacked the consistency to match, there’s a strong argument to be made that he’s played the best golf of his career over the past 14 months.

But if he leaves Pinehurst and Royal Troon without adding major title number five to his resumé, where does that leave him? At this point, landmark victories – the Zurich Classic was his 25th PGA Tour win, three more gets him to 40 proper tournament wins worldwide – in non-majors are to be celebrated, but run-of-the-mill wins are little more than that.

He’s a victim of his own success and the fact that I’m even writing this piece is evidence that we’ve been spoiled beyond recognition by what he’s achieved.

But that’s the thing about success. It’s like a drug. You crave more and more and each additional hit doesn’t quite bring the same high that the previous one did.

But it’s been 10 years since his last injection of major championship glory. Can he remember what that hit felt like? Can any of us?

By the time that next major victory comes around – and I still think it will – it will be like the first hit all over again, maybe even better because back in 2011 it seemed only a matter of time before he became a major champion and only a matter of time it was.

Maybe win number 38 comes this week, maybe it comes next week at the Memorial, or maybe it comes at Pinehurst in just over a fortnight’s time.

He’d gladly trade his previous three for that elusive fifth major, but all he can do is keep trying. If it’s not to be, it’s not to be, but each additional victory only makes it more glaring that he’s been major-less for a decade.

It’s a first world problem for sure, but it’s very much a first-world that he lives in.

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