It’s been a while since we’ve seen this side of Rory McIlroy.
After an incredibly disappointing PGA Tour season that saw him go winless and post only one top-ten finish, leading to his elimination from the FedEx Cup playoffs before the Tour Championship, some time away from golf appears to have done the young Ulsterman some good.
Despite poor results on both the PGA and European Tours, McIlroy has shown incredible fortitude to keep grinding and working through his troubles. Nobody this side of Tiger Woods has had to deal with the kind of scrutiny that McIlroy faced coming into the year. From questions about his switch to Nike equipment to legends like Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player waxing philosophical about his mental state and love life, he’s taken it all in stride.
Of course, nobody said being a 24-year-old millionaire several times over was that difficult, but a four-week trip back home to Ireland after the PGA Tour season wrapped has recharged McIlroy’s battery, and perhaps sparked a bit more of his competitive fire. He spent his time not only reconnecting with family and friends, but getting some great work done in comfortable conditions with his swing coach.
When McIlroy defeated Woods in their “exhibition match” earlier this week, it was easy to dismiss as just a simple practice round, and shooting -6 to Woods’ -5 wasn’t exactly chasing down the world No. 1 at Augusta National. Perhaps after a strong opening to the WGC-HSBC Champions, it’s time to take notice.
McIlroy was his usual wild self off the tee on Thursday, but he more than compensated with his iron play and putter, hitting 15 greens in regulation and sinking eight birdie putts to cruise to a 7-under round of 65. Perhaps the familiar surroundings at Sheshan International Golf Club, where McIlroy has three previous top-five finishes are helping, but whatever it is, it’s working.
McIlroy is off to a great start, and while it’s far too early to proclaim “he’s back!”, it looks like he’s out to remind everybody of just what kind of talent brought him here in the first place.