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Brain-dead to winning ugly - Rory McIlroy's forgettable year to remember

The Northern Irishman has been distracted by a number of non-golfing matters in 2013.

Rory McIlroy reacts to a poor shot during his second round at The Open.
Rory McIlroy reacts to a poor shot during his second round at The Open.
Image: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

AT THE END of 2012, Rory McIlroy declared, quite sensibly, that he cherishes Majors over world ranking positions.

The Holywood native finished the year as the world’s number one golfer but, 12 months on, is down to sixth. Tiger Woods took the mantle from McIlroy back in March and has not looked back. His closest pursuers are Adam Scott and Justin Rose.

McIlroy’s main aim for 2013 were the four Majors. “[A career Grand Slam] is something I’ve thought about,” he confessed. “I’ve got the Masters and the Open, still, to win. I said at the start of this year if I didn’t win a major I’d be disappointed and I’ll say that again, going into 2013… I’d love to give myself a chance to win all four.”

McIlroy took home just over €2.4m in prize-money in the past 12 months but would be the first to admit that he flattered to deceive for much of the year. He went into the Masters on the back of some red flag results — 98th, 33rd and 45th. Citing toothache, he withdrew at the Honda Classic after going seven over after eight holes of his second round.

His infamous implosion at Augusta happened during the final round in 2012. One year on and McIlroy had a Saturday meltdown. He shot a horrific 79 to plummet down the leaderboard before closing out with a fighting 69. Fans hoped it would prove the start of a comeback but it was a false dawn.

He travelled to Muirfield and talked up his chances beforehand. Former Open winner Nick Faldo had advised the Northern Irishman to forget about business distractions and rumblings over his new Nike clubs. The links course eventually bested every golfer, bar Phil Mickelson [-3], but McIlroy’s downfall was laid bare for all to see.

imageMcIlroy was forced to defend his comments about a dislike for links golf before The Open. AP Photo/Alastair Grant

He carded a first round 79 and admitted afterwards to serious lapses in concentration. “It’s nothing to do with technique,” he insisted. “It’s all mental. It’s just so brain-dead. Seriously, I feel like I’ve been like that for the last couple of months. I’m trying to get out of it. I just don’t quite know why.”

McIlroy returned to Northern Ireland to play golf with childhood buddies in August and it seemed to do the trick. At the WGC Bridgestone, he shot a 69 for his first under par round in two months. At the end of the month, the 24-year-old rebounded from an agonising run in the first three Majors to give himself a chance of defending his USPGA crown. His final round was solid, more than magical, and Jason Dufner stole in to win his first Major.

His lowest round of the year — 64 — followed at the Deutsche Bank Championship and the train seemed to be back on the tracks. A week later and the swing demons crept back into McIlroy’s game. He shot opening rounds of 78 and 77 yet clung on to make the cut and close out with a pair of 68s.

Golf seemed far from the agenda in September as McIlroy separated, somewhat bitterly, from his Horizon sports management team. Rory McIlroy Incorporated allowed its number one employee some down-time, during which the golfer hung out with Bono and Bill Clinton, and watched Ulster beat Leicester Tigers at Ravenhill.

He ended his year in Asia and was denied a maiden win of 2013 at the Korean Open when he was edged out by local golfer Kang Sung-Hoon. He defeated Tiger Woods in an exhibition event [earning €1.1m for his troubles] at Mission Hills and won some officially sanctioned cash [€200,105] for tying fifth at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

His first tournament victory arrived in his final official tour event of the year. A birdie on the 18th saw McIlroy snatch the Australian Open from the home favourite, Scott. “To be able to play your best golf when you need to, when you’re under pressure, you can’t ask for more,” said a relieved McIlroy.

Reflecting on a trying year, McIlroy admitted he found it hard not to listen to the back-seat golfing advice from commentators, former pros and golf fans. Ugly golf, he added, could be the key to greater success in the year ahead.

The ambitions have been tapered but the undoubted talent is not far from the surface. If McIlroy can cut down on his promotional workload and find more time to play a round or two with his friends, Major number three may come into view without that uphill chase.

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About the author:

Patrick McCarry

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