Rory McIlroy has gone from child prodigy to young adult mystery.
Remember the kids’ game, Where’s Waldo? Well, unfortunately for the 24-year-old Irishman, that’s how fans feel when they start looking at tournament scoreboards wondering where the former No. 1 player in the world is.
It seems like a long, long time ago that McIlroy was dominating the game, winning tournaments, winning a pair of majors by eight strokes each and playing in a manner that made people go ga-ga in admiration.
And despite all that has befallen him since the calendar turned to 2013—multi-million endorsement deal with Nike, a not-so-easy transition to those clubs, a swing that has suffered and a putter that has betrayed him—I firmly believe we have not seen the best of Rory McIlroy.
What might the best be?
Here’s the way I see it. McIlroy is not done winning majors, although he won’t threaten Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods. There are now way more guys capable of winning majors than there were in Nicklaus’ day or when Woods was winning them on a regular basis.
McIlroy will, however, win oodles and oodles of golf tournaments on the PGA and European Tours. He’ll win both the PGA Tour and European Tour money lists in the same year multiple times.
This is a big, strong young man with exceptional talent that will only get better and better with age. This year is a perfect example of the kind of talent he has. He has played in eight PGA Tour events and, even struggling as he is, has four top-10 finishes and has earned over $1 million.
Statistics will tell you his performance this year is being hindered by not being able to find enough fairways, not being able to make putts and not converting enough scoring opportunities.
His driving accuracy is actually a little better this year than last, but he’s well aware that he needs to improve in all of those categories if he wants to climb back to the top of the golf world.
Some might say his fall from grace was precipitated by Woods’ return in a big way last year. They theorize he might not have been able to handle the pressure Woods can impart on his competition when he gets his game in gear.
I disagree. He won four times last year, had a pair of runner-up finishes and earned over $8 million. That doesn’t sound to me like a guy who was intimidated by a lurking Tiger.
As the game evolves and purses continue to rise, McIlroy could well become the career money leader when his playing days are done.
When he gets to the peak of his career, he’ll become even more of an ATM machine than he is now. Once the swing returns and he reaches a plateau of sorts, McIlroy will win millions.
Based on what he’s done to this point, I’m confident in saying he won’t mature into a Woods or Sergio Garcia, both of whom displayed the kind of girly hissy-fits this past weekend that should have been taken care of away from the public eye.
Even with everything he’s been through this year, he’s maintained his cool and humility.
Well, OK, walking off in the middle of the Honda Classic wasn’t cool, but you can tell a great deal about a guy’s character during tough times.
We’ve seen what McIlroy can do here in the infant stages of his career. The strong assumption is that as he matures, so will his game.
When he’s at his best, he can and will dominate. Something he’s lacked at this point is consistency. He’s made 62 starts on the PGA Tour and has missed the cut nine times. By comparison, Woods has made 300 starts and missed on 17 cuts.
McIlroy’s warm and friendly personality, combined with his humility, give him a great base to build a solid fanbase.
He’s unlike players like Woods who understandably limit fan contact. He knows he has to be wary to some degree, but at least he looks like he enjoys the experience a little.
The man can play the game at a level few have ever attained.
At age 24, this is only the tip of the iceberg. He’s going to win a fair share of majors, but he won’t attain the greatest of accolades because he won’t win 10 or 15.
But when he gets to the peak of his career, early in his 30s, he’s going to be an absolute blast to watch.