Whisper it, but Rory McIlroy is playing golf this week. It has been 13 majors since he landed his last big one back at the US PGA in 2014. It’s certainly not a crisis, it’s just that the gap is getting more noticeable. The 29-year-old is actually in decent form with a runners-up spot at Wentworth and a top-10 finish at the Memorial tournament.
What might be useful as the pressure builds on this so-called drought is that Saudi Arabia’s football team will be experiencing more Google hits and goggle-eyed interest than Shinnecock Hills today. The last time the US Open was played there 14 years ago, only Retief Goosen and Phil Mickelson went round under par. The average final-day score was almost 79. It was carnage.
Perhaps it’s not the place to end McIlroy’s major woes then. In an interview with CNN recently, he talked about his latest near miss at Augusta in April: “I went out on the final day obviously giving myself a chance of playing carefree, trying to freewheel and that’s easier said than done,” he explained. “I got onto that first tee and I was quite nervous.”
We noticed. Worry lines are not nice on a twentysomething. Youthful days of invincibility when you are king of the world are hard to maintain. Once upon a time, winning majors by eight shots looked like kid’s play. Big shiny trophies made those interviews so much easier to handle. What’s this thing called worry? That’s for sad people who have too much time on their hands.
When the youthful matador Seve Ballesteros came onto the scene by hitting balls into the car park and winning the Masters at 23, he swept up four majors in five years. Then there was a four-year lull of near misses, implosions and frustration. The swashbuckling style had been replaced by a furrowed brow before, finally, Seve managed his fifth and sadly, last major at Royal Lytham in 1988 with a closing, throwback round of 65.
McIlroy’s path is somewhat similar to Europe’s greatest golfing showman. His four majors so far were gathered in a three-year golden period from 2011. Back then (seems weird to say that) he had the confidence of a young pup but the steel of a demolition truck.
In recent years, the new kids on the Atlantic block have stolen the green green grass from under Wee-Mac’s feet. Jordan Spieth has a magical karma about him, despite his own meltdown at the 2016 Masters. Patrick Reed and Justin Thomas look like good bets to join the band of breakthrough stars.
Ballesteros was 31 when he enjoyed his last hurrah as a champion of the most coveted prizes. McIlroy is in his thirtieth year but does not possess the back problems and swing soul searching that began to drive Seve to distraction.
Over the next four days, maybe he can benefit from playing himself back into some major form on the fairways while Russia rules the airwaves.