[PHOTOS: Getty Images]
It perhaps could have been a more eventful 2022 golf season for Rory McIlroy. Though truthfully, you would be hard-pressed to say how.
The Northern Irishman might have smashed records for most consecutive days of being a must-search on Google. That’s how newsworthy he was, how brilliant was his golf, how successful was his life, and how refreshingly honest was his candour.
On and off the course, he simply was a juggernaut and it culminated with an achievement that had never before been done. McIlroy became the first player at the same time to be No.1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, No.1 in the FedExCup, and No.1 on the DP World Tour.
While his competitors would certainly pay great respect to that layer of history, there is another aspect to this success that might gnaw on them. That’s because McIlroy has served notice that he isn’t yet done.
“I feel like I’m healthy, I’m (just) 33 and I feel like my body is in the best shape it’s ever been in. Hopefully, it’s just moving ahead and keep on moving on.”
Oh, how he moved beautifully in 2022, piling up three significant PGA Tour wins – the CJ CUP to open his season, the RBC Canadian Open in mid-summer, and in August he claimed his third win at the Tour Championship which brought him a third FedExCup. Throw in uncanny consistency (he was top 10 in 10 of his 16 PGA Tour starts, including all four Majors, and on the DP World Tour he was in the top four in five of six tournaments) and you have a season that was beyond satisfying.
“I was a model of consistency the whole way through the year,” said McIlroy. “I’m really proud of my year.”
Acutely aware of the media landscape that engulfs professional sports these days, McIlroy understands that finishing second at the Masters, eighth at the PGA Championship, joint fifth at the US Open, and third at the Open Championship might not satisfy observers who place intense scrutiny on what you do in the Majors. And given that McIlroy is one of three players to own four Major championships at 25 or younger (Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods being the others), the threshold for success is exceedingly high for him.
“It’s been eight years since I won a Major,” said McIlroy, who won the 2011 US Open, 2012 and 2014 PGA Championships, and 2014 Open Championship. “But I feel like I’ve done everything else in the game since then. I’ve won three FedExCups (and four DP World Tour Championships). I’m as complete a golfer as I feel like I’ve ever been and hopefully I can continue on that path.”
In many ways, McIlroy was thrust into a role that might have been uncomfortable for most of the game’s superstars. But at a time when the stature of the PGA Tour was challenged and players were provided an opportunity to profess their loyalty, it was McIlroy who unabashedly took the lead.
“I want to be on the right side of history,” he said. “There are a lot of things that people play golf for and do their jobs for and it’s not just about money.
“It’s about other things. It’s about fulfillment. It’s about trying to get the best out of yourself. It’s about the satisfaction of turning up and trying to play to your potential. Those are the things that certainly made me the happiest about playing golf (in 2022).”
Perhaps most remarkable of all was this – the season hardly was filled with promise in the spring. McIlroy said that was a topic of conversation as he savoured the fruits of his labour in the fall.
“Harry (Diamond, McIlroy’s caddie) and I were talking (about that). He reminded me that it felt like a long time since San Antonio.”
Having broken from the gates with a sluggish start in ’22, McIlroy took ownership of his game. He did finish T-10 in the Genesis Invitational, but a warning sign of sorts went off in March at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Leading by two after an opening 65, McIlroy jammed it into reverse and a 76-76 weekend left him joint 13th.
The following week he had to hold on to make the cut on the number at The Players Championship. He never got untracked and was mired in a share of 33rd.
Disturbed by his play and knowing that his recent track record in the Major championships had been to start sluggishly and never be in contention, McIlroy made the executive decision to not go home and brood. No, sir. He was going to dig the answers out of the dirt in advance of the Masters.
He played the week before the Masters in the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio.
McIlroy hadn’t played in the tournament since 2013 and while he didn’t turn around the stagnant game (he shot 72-73 and missed the cut), he was in a better frame of mind when he arrived at Augusta National Golf Club.
“I was struggling a little bit and made a couple of tweaks with my game and with my equipment,” said McIlroy. “I went to a different golf ball. It seemed like just after that, my whole year turned around and I got a ton of momentum at the Masters.
“It just went from there.”
How it “went from there” was electric as McIlroy, sitting 10 shots off the lead and in no position to win the Masters, holed a bunker shot for birdie at the 72nd hole to put a tidy bow on a bogey-free, final-round 64. It enabled McIlroy to finish second to Scottie Scheffler.
More than a moral victory, it ignited a firestorm of confidence within McIlroy that he carried into the rest of the year. That it came in tandem with his vocal loyalty to the PGA Tour – a strong public crusade that led Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and a parade of other leading players to fall in behind him – made McIlroy arguably the game’s most significant and notable player in 2022.
McIlroy appreciates the recognition he received for his off-course leadership. “But for, I’m happiest when I’m playing my best,” he said. “It’s the sporting achievements that are the things that keep me going.”