‘I’ve got my golf game back’: What Rory McIlroy has found that has him excited

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy hits his tee shot on Thursday on the 18th hole at Jumeirah Golf Estates.

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Rory McIlroy, on the par-5 2nd at Jumeirah Golf Estates, hit his tee shot, it easily covered a fairway bunker on the right side of the hole, and it settled down the left side of the fairway, some 310 yards away. “This is perfection, that one,” an announcer said on the Golf Channel broadcast. 

Stroke two, from 267 yards out, went 271 off the face of his 5-wood. McIlroy started it high right, drew it back, and the ball bounced just over a greenside bunker and finished about 10 feet past the hole. “Wow, just beautiful. Absolutely beautiful,” an announcer said on the broadcast. “There’s not many in the world that can do that.” 

Stroke three, from the green, went left to right before finishing at the bottom of the cup. McIlroy, after an opening birdie during the first round of the DP World Tour Championship, was three-under through two holes. “Perfect pace,” an announcer said. “What a way to start — three, three; birdie, eagle; three-under par. Oh dreamy.”

Perfection. Beautiful. Dreamy. When McIlroy is right, go ahead and use all of the flowery phrases. On Thursday, after a six-birdie, one-eagle, one-bogey 65 that gave him a two-shot advantage after 18 in the season-ending event on the European Tour, the man himself even gushed over his game. 

“Getting into contention in one major this year isn’t good enough for me,” McIlroy said. “I’ve done way better than that before and I know I can again, especially with how I’m playing and feeling like I’ve got my golf game back, basically. So I’m excited for those four events next year and excited about the road ahead because I really feel like I’m on the right path.”

Of course, “back” implies you’ve been gone, and for a while, you could argue, McIlroy was missing. First came a stretch ahead of his victory at the Wells Fargo at the start of May where the four-time major winner hadn’t won in 18 months. Then a first in his six Ryder Cup appearances — a Saturday morning benching after getting trounced twice on Friday. He played Saturday afternoon, lost again, then won his Sunday singles and McIlroy memorably let it all out

“I’ve never really cried or gotten emotional about what I’ve done as an individual; I couldn’t give a s***,” McIlroy said on NBC amid tears. “This team, to what it means and what it’s part of, all that is just phenomenal. As I said, I’m disappointed that I didn’t contribute more this week, but in two years’ time, we’ll go at it again. I love being a part of it, and I can’t wait to be a part of more.”

Three weeks later, at the CJ Cup, he won. After the Saturday at the Ryder Cup, he said that he had considered shutting it down until 2022, only to drop a bucket of balls on the range and hit. And hit and hit. 

“Yeah, I feel I’m a big boy now,” McIlroy said Thursday. “I’ve been around the block a bit, and if I have problems or struggles, I should be able to sort them out myself. Instead of look to others to fix my problems, I’m going to take responsibility a bit, and that’s what I did after the Ryder Cup. Put my head down and spent a lot of time just on the range and just figuring out, OK, what is it I do well, and what do I need to get back to.”

And what is that? Go back to the “perfection” drive on 1, and how he shaped it down the fairway. Or the “beautiful” second shot, where he carved it right to left. After the win at the CJ Cup, McIlroy said “I’ve realized that just being me is good enough and maybe the last few months I was trying  — not trying to be someone else, but maybe trying to add things to my game or take things away from my game. I know that when I do the things that I do well, this is what I’m capable of. I’m capable of winning a lot of events on the PGA Tour and being the best player in the world.”

He said both Wednesday and Thursday that his game is “visual.”

“I always see shots,” McIlroy said. “I don’t know how much the shot tracer was out there today, but people probably see me playing shots again. Maybe not quite as much as Bubba Watson, but still that’s how I’ve always played golf and seen the game, and I just need to get back to seeing it like that again.”

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