Friday, May 24, 2024

McIlroy can still achieve greatness without the Grand Slam – Irish Golfer Magazine

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One could not have imagined that when Rory McIlroy won his fourth major championship title in four years at the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla he would be returning to that same venue ten years later still stuck on four majors.

While a fifth major continues to elude him and THE FIFTH MAJOR he needs to complete the career grand slam looks further away with each passing year, McIlroy needs to use his return to Valhalla as a reset to look towards how many majors he could win over the next decade.

When he did win those four majors in quick succession including back-to-back at the 2014 Open and PGA, he was just 25-years-old and looked like the next star who could dominate the game ad get to ten majors. Even the small issue of a grand slam at the Masters seemed a sure thing.

At that time, the Holywood man was the big star, doing things in the game that maybe two or three other players of his era could do. Now, at 34, McIlroy has shown remarkable consistency to still be at the top of the game at world number two. However, the depth of world class players in golf is deeper than it has ever been and even the emergence of Ludvig Åberg can only be seen as another obstacle.

Whether McIlroy has regressed over the last decade is debatable but there is no doubt that the pack have caught up with him and even surpassed him, if you are Brooks Koepka with five majors.

There have been so many youngsters come through tagged as sure things since McIlroy’s last major win. And sure enough they have delivered in the shape of Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama and Koepka. Now world number one Scottie Scheffler is leading a new generation of superstars in the shape of himself, Collin Morikawa, Jon Rahm and Cameron Smith who have all won majors.

But even the depth of talent behind those players is staggering with several major champions in waiting ready to pounce on their chance, and that’s not withstanding the outsider winners the major championships often produce – although Wyndham Clark is definitely here for the long run now.

Since that infamous Sunday in 2011, McIlroy has registered seven top-10 finishes at the Masters. But you can’t say he has been knocking on the door.

Late runs after disastrous starts have seen McIlroy backdoor his way into most of those top-10s in a tournament he has rarely contended to win.

2018 is the only opportunity he has had to win a green jacket since and even those dreams were dashed before the back nine.

The four-time major winner can be given a pass for last week’s T22 finish at Augusta National and, depending which side of the fence you are on, it can either be seen as a positive or a negative since he came into the first major of the year with little to no form to speak of on the PGA Tour.

At what point does time begin to run out on McIlroy. Not in terms of age but in terms of getting the absolute best out of his golf game, because at a tournament he rarely contends to win in, surely his chances of winning the Masters and becoming the sixth player to win the grand slam are decreasing every year?

McIlroy has won everything possible in the game of golf outside of a major over the last decade, yet he still carries around the tag of underachiever because he has not yet notched a fifth major title or the one he needs to complete the set.

If majors are the measures of a golfing career, then McIlroy is on course to fall short of true greatness.

He can still achieve greatness without winning the grand slam. After all, look at how well revered Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson are.

Both players have seven and eight majors respectively and that target still remains firmly in reach for McIlroy over the next ten years and beyond if he can stay at the top.

A generation has gone by since he won his last one but the floodgates can re-open should he finally land the elusive fifth one. Six, seven and eight can follow suit and who knows, perhaps a ninth, taking him to joint fourth in the all-time major winning list and the most in the post Tiger modern era.

McIlroy is high on the list as Ireland’s greatest sportsman. He can cement his place with another major haul and he can most definitely be viewed as an all-time great without winning the career grand slam.

McIlroy’s career will be defined by major wins. If it includes the Masters, great. If not, a few more of the others will do.

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