Going from heart-wrenching to heart-stopping, Rory McIlroy turned his personal soap opera on end by enthralling the golfing world with an amazing comeback win at the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour.
With his completely unpredictable, astounding victory at the BMW at Wentworth in Virginia Water, England, McIlroy quickly put aside any adverse effects of calling off his wedding to tennis star and on-and-off girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki just days before the start of the event.
If we had been looking for someone to replace Tiger Woods on the golf scene, we could not have asked for a more likely and equally dramatic individual as the 25-year-old Northern Irishman.
Let’s face it, while a lot of people would have holed up in a dark bedroom bemoaning their fate, McIlroy was knocking balls in the hole at a ridiculous and ultimately victorious rate.
Lying seven strokes back of 54-hole leader Thomas Bjorn on the final day, he proceeded to shoot a 66 while laying waste to a world-class field. It was his first win since November, 2013—when he beat Adam Scott on the 72nd hole at the Emirates Australian Open—and his first European Tour win since December 2012.
More importantly, it was a show of toughness we have not seen from McIlroy in quite some time.
It has been a rough couple of years for McIlroy, who dominated the pro tour by winning four times in 2012, including his second major win at the PGA Championship. At that point, he was just a year removed from his wondrous 16-under victory at the 2011 U.S. Open and his anointment as the best up-and-coming player in the game.
Then, seemingly unable to handle his success, he unraveled.
He changed his clubs and lost his touch while meandering through 2013 as if he had just started playing with zero wins and only five top-10 finishes.
Then, while defending his title at the 2013 Honda Classic, the No. 1 ranked player in the world just left the course and got into his car after hitting a ball in the water on the par-five 18th hole.
At the time, McIlroy owned up to his wavering mental attitude. “There’s not really much I can say, guys,” he said to reporters in the parking lot. I’m not in a good place mentally, you know?" He later blamed his departure on a toothache.
Looking like a tempestuous teenager rather than a two-time majors winner, he stomped and pounded his club at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, bending his club so badly he couldn’t play with it. He finished 14 over par in 41st place. He finished the year in 49th place in the FedEx Cup standings.
He seemingly got a grip on things as he entered 2014. He had beaten Adam Scott in December on the 72nd hole at the Emirates Australian Open in what was a sign of good things to come.
Still, there was that thing at the Honda Classic, when he was unable to close the deal and lost in a very anti-climactic playoff, blowing a two-stroke lead after 54 holes.
At the time, on the NBC broadcast, Jack Nicklaus said of McIlroy’s inability to beat lesser foes, "Those other guys aren't proven. Rory is proven. Rory should have the advantage down the stretch."
Not that he has had a bad year. In fact, he has played great. He has scored in the top 10 in seven of eight events he has entered and never finished out of the top 25.
Yet instead of being known for his gutsy comebacks and stellar play, McIlroy has become somewhat of a whipping boy with a questionable ability to suck it up when times get tough. Moving forward, he has to dispel the image of a player who lets the little things get the best of him, as at last year’s Honda Classic.
That is why this BMW win may bring optimism to golf fans who have been waiting for McIlroy to step it up again.
Winning the BMW in the face of personal heartbreak could signal a reprise for one of the game’s biggest talents.
Placing out of the money in a golf tournament pales in comparison to calling off a wedding, but somehow McIlroy worked through the heartache with a fantastic performance at the BMW European Championship.
For someone with so much talent, McIlroy’s short but productive career has been unpredictable. But he may be putting that aside as his statistics are beginning to match his ability. He now ranks 11th in driving distance, 21st in greens in regulation, first in birdies and third in scoring average.
That last stat will be the most telling of all, since this win will definitely make him a favorite at the upcoming U.S. Open.
While others in his age group have grabbed titles and headlines (Patrick Reed, Seung-Yul Noh), and world-ranking placement (Jordan Spieth ranks ninth to McIlroy’s 10th), it has looked like McIlroy has been moving in the opposite direction.
Now that may have changed.
Some are predicting a slam dunk win for McIlroy at the upcoming U.S. Open.
No one ever questioned Nicklaus or Woods' mental toughness. If anything, they were feared as the game’s greatest intimidators.
McIlroy may not have that kind of strength yet, but he showed at the BMW that no course and no other player is a match for him when he is on his game.