On Monday, Oct. 28, Rory McIlroy defeated Tiger Woods in an 18-hole exhibition match. McIlroy shot a six-under 67 to a five-under 68 by Woods, thus resulting in the Scottish star recording a $1.5 million payday, per James Corrigan of The Telegraph.
Exhibition match or not, this was a noteworthy victory for the struggling McIlroy.
More times than not, an exhibition match victory is of minimal importance to the future of a golfer's career. In McIlroy's case, however, the Scottish star is on the heels of a season in which he played at a level that simply didn't warrant his label as one of the world's elite.
Fortunately, McIlroy is closing the year out strong.
It's not a dream victory, but it's a start to a turnaround.
McIlroy is one of the most popular athletes in the world, and that stems from his success in some of golf's biggest events. In 2013, however, the former World No. 1's reputation has sustained a major hit. He ranked among the worst at some of the sport's most notable outings.
All this win can do is improve McIlroy's odds of bouncing back in 2014.
No Longer a Cold Spell
At 24, it's difficult to fault McIlroy for any lackluster performances when most players his age dream of reaching his level of success. Due to the nature of his failures in 2013, as well as the heights he reached in previous seasons, the backlash he's received is to be expected.
Fair or foul, a decline from the top of your craft to mediocrity is simply unacceptable.
McIlroy rose to stardom in 2009, finishing in the top 10 at the U.S. Open and at No. 3 at the PGA Championship. One year later, McIlroy pulled off two more top-five finishes at major tournaments.
In 2011, McIlroy finally broke through by winning the U.S. Open.
Since winning that title, however, McIlroy has cracked the top 10 in just two of his 10 major appearances. He won the 2012 PGA Championship, but his failures in the other events have created a two-year span of puzzling inconsistency.
McIlroy has missed the cut in two of his past seven major championship appearances and finished 25th or worse in eight of his past 10.
That level of inconsistency simply doesn't go hand in hand with a player who is mentioned with best in the world. Instead, McIlroy's level of play has been synonymous with the players who are on the outside looking in.
Fortunately, he's closed 2013 out strong.
Signs of Recovery
After missing the cut at the 2013 Open Championship, all signs pointed toward McIlroy drifting out of the spotlight. It was the third consecutive time that he'd finished 25th or worse at the event, and it marked the third time in 2013 that he'd been a nonfactor at a major event.
At the 2013 PGA Championship, McIlroy quietly cracked the top 10.
Jason Dufner finished at 10 under par for the win, but McIlroy came in at three under to finish in a tie for No. 10. It wasn't an extraordinary result, but it was the first time all year that McIlroy had shown signs of life in a major championship.
By defeating Woods in an exhibition match, McIlroy achieved something even more significant: He won his first event of the year.
McIlroy should be breathing a sigh of relief.
McIlroy is still a global superstar, but his level of play over the past two years hasn't reflected that. He'll need to develop a rhythm in 2014 and contend for majors, but the key to entering that groove is finishing this year in a strong manner.
Going one-on-one with Tiger Woods and winning is a great way to do just that.