Rory McIlroy reigns at CJ Cup after some self-realisation

‘I don’t need to search for anything, it’s all right here,’ said 32-year-old after victory

Rory McIlroy on the 18th green after winning the CJ Cup at the Summit Club in Las Vegas. Photo: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images for CJ Cup @ Summit

Rory McIlroy on the 18th green after winning the CJ Cup at the Summit Club in Las Vegas. Photo: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images for CJ Cup @ Summit

 

Rory McIlroy’s latest win - significant in that it was his 20th on the PGA Tour - carried with it an unfortunate sense of timing: for, just as the one-time “boy wonder” rediscovered that old swagger and verve in his annexing of the CJ Cup in Las Vegas, the flip side is that the 32-year-old Northern Irishman won’t be using his TaylorMade clubs any time soon in competition.

Four weeks in fact, at the European Tour’s end-of-season finale, the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Which is a pity, really, given that golfers - certainly those who hit winning form - thrive on momentum.

Still, McIlroy, who hit the reset button after a teary and disappointing Ryder Cup, once again reaching out to his old, longtime coach Michael Bannon, has signalled that he is truly entitled to aspire to the sort of goals that once seemed second nature: of again being world number one, of adding further Majors to his career total of four; of basically achieving wherever he sets the bar himself.

McIlroy’s weekend play in the desert - a 62 on Saturday followed by a 66 on Sunday - was more like his old self, when he made the game look easy and the destination of a title look inevitable. It came on the back of a period of months over the summer where he’d never worked as hard on his game with getting so little back in return.

As he observed, “the last few months I feel like I have never worked as hard . . . . but I didn’t get what I wanted to get out of it where I just need to be a little better with what I practice and when I practice. The whole week leading up to this, all I did on the range was try to visualise every shot that I hit, try to see draws, see fades, see high, see low and really just play around with it.

“The more and more I did that and the more it feels comfortable on the course doing that, and that’s playing golf. That’s getting back to hitting shots and, when it boils down to it, that’s all you need to do out there are hit the shots. Sometimes I forgot that in a quest to try to be too perfect probably, but this week was a great reminder that you don’t need to be perfect to be a great golfer.”

Reinvigorated

For someone who admitted that, on the Saturday night of the Ryder Cup, he was inclined to put his clubs away for the rest of the year, only to be reinvigorated by his singles win over Xander Schauffele to the point where he was reduced to emotional tears, McIlroy spent the time in-between getting back to basics.

“I think part of the emotion at the end of (the Ryder Cup) was to do with that week, but it was also probably to do with the last few months in terms of searching to try to get better and sort of the realisation that I don’t need to search for anything, it’s all right here,” he explained.

McIlroy, of course, tasted victory earlier in the year at the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow, shortly after he’d started working with Pete Cowan. The time from May to October, though, proved to be frustrating for the golfer in terms of contending and winning and adding the CJ Cup (part of the 2021/2022 wraparound season) has made for a better year.

“I still want to get back to that point where I’m knocking off three, four, five wins a year. To have multiple wins this year on a year that I would say has been a bit of a down year for me, it’s still been pretty good,” he acknowledged in a way that would give the CJ Cup greater significance than just another win.

The success was achieved with a brilliant display of putting to go with the other facets of his game; and, for the first time since his 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational success, McIlroy led the strokes gained putting category. It also moved him back inside the world’s top-10, from 14th up to eighth.

Visual

“I’m capable of winning a lot of events on the PGA Tour and being the best player in the world. It’s just a matter of me getting back to playing golf and playing golf my way. That starts with being creative and being visual and maybe sort of sifting through the technical thoughts and not maybe being as technical with it,” he said.

The CJ Cup gave McIlroy a 20th win on the PGA Tour to go with a further 14 (which includes four Majors that count on each tour) on the European Tour.

“As you go on, your goals, you have to reframe everything and you have to keep resetting your goals. As I’ve went along in my career, I’ve had to do that because you just, you keep going. You can’t just stagnate and stay the same, you have to try to keep getting better and keep doing more things. I think that’s what this is. Golf is just about moving forward and there’s always next week and you’re always trying to get better.”

Rather than hopping on a plane to Japan, McIlroy has opted to stay at home in Florida - “…to build on (the latest win)” - and won’t reappear until that end-of-season Tour Championship in Dubai, where Shane Lowry will also be in action. Lowry had originally intended to play in the Zozo but decided to withdraw to spend time at home with his family.

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