Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Can McIlroy turn rollercoaster ride into Valhalla resurrection? – News – Irish Golf Desk

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Rory McIlroy has been no stranger to drama throughout his career but like many of the sporting greats of the past, he’s been able to use outside distractions to soar to even greater heights.

The great Michael Jordan relished conflict, real or imagined, and while the breakup of McIlroy’s marriage exploded like a shell burst over the rain-soaked fairways of Valhalla Golf Club this week, history tells us the Co Down man (35) has the mental strength to take refuge inside the ropes and finally end that ten-year major drought.

One only has to think back to May 2014, when he ended his engagement to the tennis player Caroline Wozniacki and surprised everyone by addressing the issue in an emotional pre-tournament press conference for that week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

“Look, I think I’m no different than anyone else,” McIlroy said at the time. “Everyone has been through break ups and it’s obviously very, very difficult. I’m not going to lie. It’s going to be very difficult. But you know, at least when I get inside the ropes, (I can) just try and concentrate on the shot at hand.”

McIlroy was only 25 at the time but he somehow found the strength, not only to win by a shot from Shane Lowry that week but go on to enjoy the greatest summer of his career, winning The Open at Hoylake and the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone before bullying the opposition into submission in the PGA Championship at this week’s venue, Valhalla.

Unlike 2014, when he was in form from the start of the season, McIlroy was enduring a rollercoaster year until he teamed up with Lowry to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in a playoff three weeks ago.

It’s clear that whatever the odds, he somehow finds a way to find some sort of solace with club in hand. And while the fractured state of the global game has been a common theme since he turned up in Dubai in January, excited for his 18th full season on tour, his goal this year has been to “find the final piece of the puzzle” in golf’s biggest events.

He began the season with back-to-back tournaments in Dubai, losing the Dubai Invitational to Tommy Fleetwood after driving into water at the last before winning the Dubai Desert Classic for a fourth time the following week.  Many expected the wins to flow like fine wine but it’s been anything but easy.

At the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he was four-under after five holes of his opening round at Spyglass Hill only to implode by going bogey—triple-bogey—bogey over the next three holes, incurring a two-shot penalty for a rules breach as he finished a lowly 66th.

He was 24th in Tiger Woods’ Genesis Invitational at Riviera two weeks later, going double-triple on the 15th and 16th holes in the first round.  He still described his game as “feeling pretty good” but it wasn’t long before it became clear he was struggling with his short irons.

Determined to play his way into form for the Masters, he played the Cognizant Classic at the Palm Beaches for the first time in six years but finished tied 21st, then finished 21st in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and 19th in The Players, a combined 25 shots behind world No 1 Scottie Scheffler, who won both events.

Admitting he was struggling, he sought out Butch Harmon for help with his iron play and some mental keys but it didn’t quite work.

While his play improved and he finished third in the Valero Texas Open, he lacked any real control at the Masters and ended up tied for 22nd, 15 shots behind Scheffler, who retained the green jacket.  Finding the correct balance between life on and off the course is a challenge for players like McIlroy and he admitted that “re-injecting a little bit of that fun back into it” was key as he finally re-entered the winner’s circle with Lowry in New Orleans.

“I felt like I needed something like that to get me going and hopefully that’s the case,” he said before going on to hit top form with a five-shot win in the Wells Fargo Championship that’s made him the man to beat this week.

“It just needed like a little spark,” he said. “There were signs of life — San Antonio, Augusta —but getting that little spark in New Orleans and getting the win there with Shane definitely gave me a lot of confidence.”
McIlroy has performed remarkably well over the past few years, given his leading role as the loudest voice opposing LIV Golf’s disruption of the status quo.

He stepped away from the Players Advisory Committee in frustration last November but as the needle-mover among active players not called Woods, he wants to see the game reunited and while he was recently thwarted in his bid to re-join the board with some players reportedly “uncomfortable” with his return, the fact that he will have a voice on the newly formed transaction committee that’s negotiating with PIF speaks to his status as a champion for tradition and the future reunification of the game.

His personal life might be in turmoil as he goes through a divorce, but it’s golf that’s proved his refuge throughout his career.

Reconciling his status as the greatest player of his generation with another major win looks eminently achievable and perhaps cocooning himself from divorce talk inside the ropes this week will be the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place.

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