Now is the winter of McIlroy's content


The marketing men – those belonging to the European Tour, or those involved with Nike – couldn’t have planned it better. Neither could the man himself. Rory McIlroy, the hottest thing in the game, heads into the winter recess with the world at his feet; and, if the imminent $250 million (€193m) deal with Nike is occupying quite a few minds around boardrooms, it would seem the golfer himself is more focused on where he takes his next step in pursuit of greatness.

McIlroy has given masterclass after masterclass since mid-August when he captured the US PGA at Kiawah Island. That record-breaking Wanamaker Trophy win was the catalyst for a late-season dominance – on both sides of the Atlantic – that has seen him add the Deutsche Bank and the BMW Championships on the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour Championship on the European Tour to his ever-impressive CV in establishing a lead in the world rankings unknown since Tiger Woods’s halcyon era.

Quality over quantity

For sure, the comparisons of McIlroy, still only 23, with Woods are justified. And in more ways than one. Apart from his ability to close out tournaments, McIlroy would appear to be taking a leaf out of Woods’s book in determining where and when he plays. As such, his decision to further reduce his playing schedule next year bares a familiarity to Woods’s scheduling to opt for quality over quantity.

McIlroy played as a Titleist tour player for the last time in Dubai and will reappear in the new year as a Nike tour player, with his first scheduled appearance coming back in the desert when he tees up at the Abu Dhabi championship on January 17th-20th.

After that, the Ulsterman will put the main focus of his early season on playing in the States in the run-up to the Masters with his schedule set to take in the WGC-Accenture Matchplay, his defence of the Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac championship. His plan is then to take two weeks off, return for the Houston Open, and then leave time before the Masters free from tournament play.

It means McIlroy will have played just five times – including the two WGCs – before returning to Augusta in April in search of a third career Major.

And despite his name being the biggest draw in the sport, McIlroy is determined there will be no swaying him to change his mind. “I’ve done my schedule. I’m sticking to it. I’m not letting anyone persuade me to go anywhere else. I’ve learned my lessons over the last couple of years and I’m going to stick to what I’ve planned to do.”

All of McIlroy’s scheduling is with one eye on the Majors, the barometer by which great players are judged. McIlroy – with two – is still some way behind the 14 career Majors achieved by Woods and the record 18 accumulated by Jack Nicklaus and his goals heading into a new season after a winter spent working with his new clubs will be very much the same as this year.

As he put it, “I guess every goal I set myself at the start of 2012, I’ve achieved . . . [for 2013], I guess the same [targets]. To be focused on the Majors, try to win more of those. I’ve won one in ’11, one in ’12, and it would be nice to keep that run going into next year.

“I want to keep improving as a player. I can feel like I can improve in different areas of the game still. That’s the challenge and the fun of practice is trying to get better all the time.”

If such words echo similar sentiments in the past uttered by Woods, it perhaps provides an insight into the minds of great players and how they think.

Dominant player

It is, as Woods told us time and time again, all about the “Ws”. Wins! McIlroy, who has kicked on spectacularly in the second half of the season in becoming the game’s dominant player, has adopted that same winning mentality.

An indication of McIlroy’s power play since lifting the PGA at Kiawah Island in August is that he accumulated no fewer than 596 world ranking points this season, comfortably ahead of the next highest. Who would that be? Why Tiger Woods, who amassed 359 world ranking points this season. McIlroy’s lead over world number two Luke Donald – a 13.61 points average to the Englishman’s 9.28 – is reminiscent of the type of lead enjoyed in the past only by Woods.

While McIlroy will get to grips with his new clubs in the coming weeks, Graeme McDowell will finish off in this week’s Tiger Woods-promoted World Challenge in California.

Shane Lowry’s withdrawal from Dubai due to illness hasn’t affected his world ranking. Lowry remains in 57th (with Pádraig Harrington moving to 59th) and, although it means he won’t be on the invitation list for Augusta at the cut-off point in the rankings, it gives him plenty of early-season incentive to move into world’s top 50 by the next cut-off in late March.

World number ones Previous winners

The other players who have had official World Number 1 status in the 24-year history of the ranking are :

Bernhard Langer (3 weeks) Seve Ballesteros (61 weeks) Greg Norman (331 weeks)

Nick Faldo (97 weeks)

Ian Woosnam (50 weeks)

Fred Couples (16 weeks)

Nick Price (44 weeks)

Tom Lehman (1 week)

Ernie Els (9 weeks)

David Duval (15 weeks)

Vijay Singh (32 weeks)

Tiger Woods (623 weeks)

Martin Kaymer (8 weeks)

Lee Westwood (22 weeks)

Luke Donald (56 weeks)

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