McIlroy finally back in the swing

With this win in Australia the once top-ranked player is finding solid form


If, for much of the past year, the roller-coaster ride that Rory McIlroy jumped on seemed to mainly be of a downward trajectory, full of frustrating twists and turns with no obvious final destination, then finally there would appear to be some justification for the player embarking on the journey. He is on an upward graph again.

Just as one swallow doesn’t make a summer, neither does one victory constitute a one-off remedy for all of the ills that befell him throughout a frustrating year. But it does give credence to the old adage of form being temporary and class being permanent. He has that X factor, and his Australian Open win should allow him to kick on and again contend in the major championships that matter most to the top players.

McIlroy plunged to some unwanted depths this past season, a year that kicked off with so much promise on the back of his multi-year megabucks sponsorship deal with Nike. Unfortunately, the announcement of that deal, reputedly worth some €200 million, was followed by low points which ranged from unwisely withdrawing from a tournament citing a painful wisdom tooth to splitting from his management company and legal actions that clouded his focus.

‘Bad state
Probably the lowest point of all came back in March in the Honda Classic. In the second round of his defence of the tournament at PGA National, McIlroy – who had gone par-double bogey-par-bogey-par-par-triple bogey-bogey – reached the 18th, his ninth hole, and watched as his second shot plunged into water.

At that point, McIlroy walked up to one of his playing partners, Ernie Els, and handed him his scorecard. He then shook hands with Els and his other playing partner, Mark Wilson, and walked off the course. As he left, he told reporters he was “in a bad state mentally”. Later, he issued a statement claiming he was suffering from a painful wisdom tooth.

“I regret what I did. It won’t happen again, there is no excuse for quitting,” McIlroy would admit afterwards. “At that moment in time I was all over the place and I just saw red. I feel like I let a lot of people down with what I did . . . and, for that, I am sorry. No matter how bad I was playing, I should have stayed out there. I should have tried to shoot the best score possible even though it probably wasn’t going to be good enough to make the cut.”

Yet, the evening that McIlroy quit the golf course, he was back on the range with his coach Michael Bannon. The truth of the matter was that McIlroy was in a bad place with his game. His swing wasn’t where he wanted it to be. That evening, they watched a video of him hitting shots from his teenage years and worked on it.

Elusive win
There was no quick fix, though. One Major followed another in 2013 – from Augusta to Philadelphia, Edinburgh to Rochester – and one tournament followed another and McIlroy’s quest for a tournament win proved an elusive one, until his win in Australia. Indeed, he was reduced to describing himself as being “brain dead” when playing in the British Open at Muirfield, where he missed the cut.

Having started the year as the number one ranked player with the world at his feet after joining brand Nike, it seemed his world was spinning out of control. The whispers of a possible split from Horizon Sports management started in the spring but it was September before McIlroy confirmed he was going his own way, setting up Rory McIlroy Incorporated. The split was not amicable and the opposing sides are due to bring the drama to the courtroom with a date scheduled for next October.

Speaking at the recent DP World Tour championship in Dubai a fortnight ago, McIlroy gave an insight into the problems which had affected him. “Obviously, there have been a few different things to think about and different things to occupy your head that really shouldn’t. It’s just the way it is and the position that I am in. It’s something that will be sorted out, hopefully sooner rather than later . . . it’s something that I don’t really think any athlete or anyone should ever go through.”

He added: “I have seen more lawyers offices and more lawyers this year than I care to see in my entire life. It’s not something I ever want to go through again and I’m making sure that I won’t ever go through it again.”

Class is permanent
One indicator that things were finally allowing McIlroy to focus on his golf came just last week, with confirmation that the threat of legal action from Oakley – his former sponsor before Nike stepped in to take head-to-toe ownership of their new prized asset – had receded after the two parties reached agreement on the matter.

Throughout the season, McIlroy had flickered into life on the course. There was a runner-up finish in the Texas Open before the Masters to provide some evidence that he still had a game and another second place finish in the Korea Open last month.

Now, his win in Australia – and the manner of it, chasing down Masters champion Adam Scott in his own backyard – will put that pep back in McIlroy’s step. Class is, indeed, permanent.