Rory McIlroy has spent much of a winless 2013 season searching for the remedy to an ailing golf swing. If recent tournament results are any indication, however, he has found the cure.
With two events remaining on his yearly docket—the Emirates Australian Open and the Tiger Woods hosted Northwestern Mutual World Challenge—his best chance at claiming that elusive first victory of 2013 is now.
The struggling but upbeat McIlroy hasn't been in a better position to contend—or possibly win—all year.
"I feel like I'm on the right track and I'm excited about my game," McIlroy said at Nike Golf's recent Innovation Summit at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas. "I set a goal to finish this year strong and to build some momentum for 2014."
It's difficult to fathom that 48 weeks into the 2013 calendar year, McIlroy still hasn't won a golf tournament—save for a one-on-one exhibition match victory over Tiger Woods last month, which didn't account for much more than temporary bragging rights between the two and a shot of confidence. He started the year with ownership of the world's No. 1 ranking and a lucrative new equipment and apparel deal with Nike that created overwhelmingly high public expectations on the 24-year-old fan favorite.
McIlroy is not Superman, but he did appear headed for superstardom.
That seemed to be where the trouble began. Whatever his Kryptonite was—adjusting to new equipment, business problems, the perceived difficulty of managing a long-distance relationship with his girlfriend, or any number of other things a young man might endure while the world watches and judges his every move—McIlroy was in a funk.
He announced an abbreviated start to his 2013 season, which would not have been such a big deal if he hadn't missed the cut with matching rounds of 75 at his debut in Abu Dhabi.
Lights. Camera. Yes.
Action? Not so much.
What was supposed to be a coming-out party with Nike's famous swoosh strewn all over McIlroy's 5'10" 160-pound frame fizzled. About a month later, McIlroy exited the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship after one round. Then he walked off the golf course in the middle of a miserable second round at the Honda Classic.
It was hardly the introduction he or Nike had anticipated.
McIlroy's 2013 season hasn't been a total loss, however. Despite not winning a tournament yet, he has managed seven top-10 finishes. For one of the most talented golfers in the world, though, it is barely a consolation.
Most recently, McIlroy has been trending in the right direction with a renewed sense of confidence, fueled by a new Nike VRS Covert 2.0 driver. He has also been playing with a new Nike RZN ball he described in a recent Nike Golf press release as making "a big difference, especially around the greens."
After a T-8 finish at the PGA Championship in August and some on-again, off-again quality rounds of golf in the FedExCup Playoffs, McIlroy finished an impressive second at the Korea Open in October. Then he defeated Woods in the aforementioned "Match at Mission Hills" in China.
He followed with a T-6 at the WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai, calling his seven-under-par opening round score there "one of the best rounds I've played this season," according to the BBC. Two weeks ago he managed a T-5 finish at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
Those were highlights in a mostly tumultuous season that has served as a valuable learning experience for McIlroy, who offered an honest self-analysis.
"Obviously, I've had years where I've had more success," McIlroy said. "This year has been a learning year. I always feel whether you have success or not, you need to learn from it and move on. The main thing I learned this year is patience. I got down on myself at times. Golf is a very fickle game. It can come and go. You can wake up one day and hit it great, then the next day it's not quite there. The big thing for me is patience and knowing that if you believe you're working on the right things and you believe you're on the right track, sooner or later it will all come together. I need to do a better job of taking a long-term view. If you view my career as an 18 hole golf course, I'm probably only on the second or third hole. I've got a long way to go. I think I've done pretty well so far."
A total of 10 professional wins including two major championship victories since turning pro in 2007 would certainly qualify as doing "pretty well." Plus, McIlroy can still salvage something more substantial than merely a lesson learned from his 2013 season with a win in Australia or California.
"I've got two tournaments left to try and get that win and give myself a good springboard for next season," he said.
If McIlroy continues to improve as he has over the past few months, his first victory of 2013 could very well be a sign of many more to come in 2014.
David Kindervater is a Correspondent for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conference at Nike Golf's Innovation Summit, TPC Summerlin, Las Vegas.