Rory McIlroy has suffered 12 months of torment but he can still bounce back | Ewan Murray

A year ago Rory McIlroy won the FedEx Cup in fine style nobody could reasonably have predicted what happened next but a return to form may be round the corner

It would be an act of exaggeration to suggest the absence of Rory McIlroy casts a dark darknes over the conclusion to the FedEx Cup. The American golfing public are perfectly content with a scenario whereby Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas are the most likely to leave East Lake on Sunday evening $10 m richer.

Nonetheless, just as any event is richer in appeal for McIlroy’s involvement , now is the right time to reflect on a 12 -month spell that, even by the standards of this player’s uncanny inclination to write his own headlines, stands out.

Not lost on the Northern Irishman, amid personal milestones but fitness annoyance, will be the lack of professional success that once came so naturally. In this, the week marking the 10 th anniversary of McIlroy turning professional, he sits eighth in the world rankings, a faintly ludicrous scenario for a golfer of his talent. He has, after all, expended 95 weeks as No1.

McIlroy did not have time to cherish his 2016 FedEx Cup success. His movie star appeal had been emphasised by a hole-out from East Lake’s 16 th fairway, just as McIlroy’s ability to battle- something routinely underplayed- was illustrated by the emergence from a tense play-off with Ryan Moore and Kevin Chappell.

The four-times major win was sitting in finish of media duties, his pride at ticking off another career goal abundantly clear, when he was informed of the death of Arnold Palmer. The narrative instantaneously and understandably changed, McIlroy offering a heartfelt and personal tribute to The King. Albeit the team colour was wrong, Palmer would also have approved of the spirit, showmanship and leadership demonstrated by McIlroy, even in defeat to the USA, at the following weekend’s Ryder Cup.

Nobody could reasonably have predicted what happened next. McIlroy’s season was complete in Dubai in mid-November, where he spoke so positively about 2017, which would include wedding and a second tilt at completing the career grand slam. Even Nike’s withdrawal from the equipment marketplace was met with a silver-lining posture. McIlroy could sample the rest of the market, essentially for the first time.

However, McIlroy’s start to the year supplied the storyline that ought to undermine so much of it thereafter. A rib problem, which showed itself in back pain and spasm, arose at the South African Open. It expensed him valuable Masters buildup events. It has been the recurring mitigating factor to dwarf all others and denied McIlroy the workout regime that forms a backdrop to his game.

McIlroy departed Georgia without a Green Jacket but of the preparations for imminent wedding. Of all the influences on McIlroy, there can be no question that of Erica Stoll has been hugely positive by way of calmness and view. That may never have been more necessary than when McIlroy accepted the invitation of a February game with Donald Trump, a move that prompted vehement and global criticism. The sad component of that was, as a child of Belfast’s outskirts, McIlroy is far more aware of political sensitivities than many of those doing the screaming at him.

McIlroy was wounded by a missed cut at the Irish Open, with the Open Championship to prove his last outing alongside longtime caddie JP Fitzgerald. Occasionally McIlroy renders sharp reminders of a ruthless approach to change. And change comes of his own volition, with McIlroy of a mind to attain his own decisions rather than allow committee governance of his game.

Context is useful. Even when playing with what has usually been his C-game, McIlroy has returned five PGA Tour top -10 s and a share of fourth at the Open. To others, a decent return. To McIlroy? Little use.

By the time he reached the opening three events of the FedEx play-offs, McIlroy presented little to demonstrate he really wanted to be there. Intriguing, too, was the sudden addition of the British Masters after Tour Championship participation became a no-go.

If, and it remains a viable prospect, pressure has been applied by Tours on either side of the Atlantic for McIlroy to play then it would be hugely disappointing. McIlroy has been, and will remain, a huge asset to golf. He is also admirably prone to doing what he regards as the right thing for a greater good- but now he simply has to get fully fit or his appearances anywhere come with a negative subtext.

Rory McIlroy celebrates with the FedEx Cup at East Lake last year. Photo: John Bazemore/ AP

There are other ponderables. It has been disheartening to assure McIlroy, such a natural artist, visibly confused to the point of intense annoyance with regards to putting. The hope, surely, is that he can return to the free-flowing and free-thinking approach of his youth. Contrary to what has become common perception, he is not at base level a poor putter at all.

The curious thing is, McIlroy is not an isolated case in what has been in many ways an odd year for golf. Jason Day, hindered by trauma and understandably overcome with emotion because of the ill-health of his mother, has been well short of his best. Henrik Stenson has not built on his 2016 Open win. Adam Scott, with his focus by his own admission affected by two young children, is 22nd in the world. Bubba Watson? Almost a forgotten human at No54. Even Dustin Johnson has provided anticlimax, given his all-conquering running between the new year and a toppled down stairs pre-Masters.

That key backdrop of injury aside, this cannot be classed as McIlroy’s professional nadir. Nobody who witnessed his commotion throughout the majority of 2013 could offer a comparing. And yet that season throws up two interesting parallels.

Four years ago, McIlroy’s switch to Nike clubs and ball was widely thrown forward as a reason for poor sort. In recent months TaylorMade has become McIlroy’s manufacturer of selection. It would seem strange to ignore surely a natural element of adjustment. What happened next is also are worth consideration. McIlroy rebounded in 2014 to win two majors and re-establish himself as the best player in his sport.

It is worth remembering that Spieth, Day and Johnson still trail McIlroy in career accomplishment words. At 28, it is well within McIlroy’s grasp to become the greatest European player ever by passing Nick Faldo’s major tally of six. Even Gary Player’s haul of nine, the most for a non-American, should be a legitimate target.

Next year McIlroy will appear alongside a new caddie, most likely have a fresh schedule as he appears to solve the Augusta National conundrum and surely a renewed sense of purpose. For reminders of what golf is like when all others dance to McIlroy’s tune, East Lake in 2016 is a decent place to start.

The Masters 9 April 2017

Posting eight bogeys over his first two rounds at Augusta costs the 27 -year-old the chance to win the Masters and complete a career grand slam. The world No2 finishes joint seventh, six shoots off the winner, Sergio Garcia.

Finish T7( -3 )

The Players 14 May 2017

Returned from a five-week lay-off in which he got married and now use TaylorMade clubs, McIlroy was never truly in arguing. He also exacerbated a back trauma links between an ongoing rib problem and finished 12 shootings behind the win, Kim Si-woo. Finish T35 (+ 2 )

US Open 16 June

Missed the weekend at Erin Hills after an opening 78, his worst major round of the year following more time out injured after the Player. Missed cut

The Open 23 July

Lost the Open on day one at Royal Birkdale, falling five shoots in the first six pits before clawing it back to one over. He went on to finish seven shootings adrift of the champion, Jordan Spieth, leaving everyone to wonder what might have been. T4( -5 )

US PGA Championship 13 August

Despite his injury conflicts, McIlroy’s record at Quail Hollow set him among the favourites for the season’s final major. It did not work out that way, with the course playing tougher than on the regular tour, and he finished well off the pace be determined by the eight-under par win, Justin Thomas. T22 (+ 1 )

Read more:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *