Should Rory McIlroy dance to the tune of golf, his inconsistency would be worthy of ridicule. Instead, a player victim of criticism for failure to complete tournament wins from promising positions is now at the forefront of the betting for the first major of the year. McIlroy, as of Sunday the Players champion, smiled when assessing an Augusta National chance that has resonance in a consistent results scenario.
“I’ll just keep doing the same thing,” said McIlroy. “I feel like I’ve managed the first six weeks or six tournaments of the year very well, even with some noise around me, whether it is, ‘He can’t close, he can’t plays on Sundays’ blah, blah, blah. I’ve just got to do my thing, and if I go and I concentrate on me, control what I can do, good golf and good attitude takes care of the rest. If I go to Augusta with a similar golf game to what I have now and the attitude I’ve shown over the first few weeks of the year? I think I’ll have a great chance.”
Smart money is on Rory McIlroy snapping out of Sliding Sundays
That nothing around McIlroy is ever linear was endorsed once more on Sunday. The Northern Irishman had been subject to castigation – as had those around him – on account of not closing out victories in previous events. The 29-year-old responded by returning the PGA Tour’s marquee event in circumstances whereby his detractors surely expected him to wilt. McIlroy was under pressure - intense pressure - and replied emphatically.
“I don’t play golf to answer... I play golf for myself,” he insisted. “I play golf because I love the game and I know that I have a talent for it and I want to make the most of it. So I’m just satisfied that I’ve added another great tournament to my CV and it puts me in a great spot going forward.”
There was, however, justifiable satisfaction from McIlroy in respect of Harry Diamond. McIlroy’s caddie and best friend had become the soft-option target for jibes amid a victory ‘drought’ that lasted 12 months.
“Harry has been a massive part of this and making me more comfortable on the golf course,”McIlroy insisted. “He’s been on the bag for just under two years. We’ve got two wins but I feel like even the experiences we’ve had on the golf course already have been huge. Harry has been a big part of the success. I don’t think people give... they just think he’s my best friend and I got him on the bag because I didn’t want to listen to anyone else. But that’s not true. Harry is an accomplished golfer and he has turned into one of the best caddies out here, if not the best. He’s so committed. He’s so professional. And having him by my side out there is so good, it’s so comforting. He’s been a big part of this.”
The McIlroy of times gone by - even 2014 - was wonderfully inconsistent. Missed cuts and major wins were bedfellows. Now, he is the picture of accustomed top-five success.
“I think it’s a lot of things,”said McIlroy in explanation. “It’s, I think, maturity. I think it’s been having a focus over the last six or seven months on my attitude, especially my attitude to golf, and not letting golf define who I am as a person; trying to keep the two things very separate. One thing that I used to do in the past is I’d let what I shot that day influence who I was or my mood. To try and keep those two things very separate is something I’ve worked hard on because who I am as a person isn’t who I am as a golfer, and it took me a while to get to that point where I realised who those two people were.
“So that has been a big thing. And I think that’s been the big difference between the highs and lows of the last few years and the more consistent play, even over the last 12 months. I’ve had two wins in the last 12 months, but even the play in between that has been pretty good, top 5s, top 10s, given myself a chance most weeks.”
Is the 2019 McIlroy more geared to success than that of a decade ago, when he was new on tour? “Oh, 100%”
The golf world, which needlessly edged towards tales of a youthful demise, must take note.