When Rory McIlroy arrived in Ohio this week, he did his best to avoid questions about his recent breakup with Caroline Wozniacki. He was here to play golf, of course.
When he got out on the course, McIlroy made sure there were no questions left to be asked.
The former world No. 1 continued the hot play that earned him a victory at last week’s BMW PGA Championship, dominating a normally tough track at Muirfield Village on the way to a nine-under-par round of 63. He ended the first round three strokes ahead of a group of early leaders that included Paul Casey, Chris Kirk, and Masters champion Bubba Watson.
Just how good was McIlroy on Thursday? He tweaked his knee on the seventh hole, made a double bogey on the 14th, and still had an outside chance to flirt with the magic number of 59. It was a pure golf clinic.
People will say what they want about McIlroy’s personal life, and certainly he’s still dealing with some public scrutiny over the way his engagement ended, but that’s tabloid talk. What we’re seeing right now is a version of Rory McIlroy that we haven’t seen in almost two years. He’s got that confidence back, almost cocky, but definitely more mature than he’s been in years past.
European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley recently called McIlroy’s play of late “Tigeresque. That constant comparison with Tiger Woods that has followed McIlroy for years seems to be a better fit than ever. It’s only been one round, so even if McIlroy doesn’t go wire-to-wire for a victory this week, he seems to have that sort of killer instinct back, much like he did in his four-win 2012 campaign.
If nothing else, the rest of McIlroy’s colleagues on tour have certainly been put on notice. Rory is back, and with a renewed focus, everybody else is going to have to elevate or be left behind.