Just days after calling off his engagement to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, Rory McIlroy rallied from seven strokes back to capture his biggest win since the 2012 PGA Championship.
McIlroy, who for the first time in quite a long time appeared to be calmly focused on the task at hand, carded a final-round 66 for a one-stroke victory over fellow Irishman and close friend Shane Lowry at the BMW PGA Championship in Surrey, England.
On a day where McIlroy hit just nine of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens in regulation, he relied heavily on a solid short game to capture his first European Tour title in 18 months.
Following a three-putt bogey on the ninth, McIlroy began to turn things around with a chip-in birdie at the par-three 10th.
McIlroy then got up-and-down from out of a greenside bunker for birdie on the par-five 12th to pull within two strokes of Lowry’s lead.
The two-time major champion went on to sink a long birdie putt on the 13th before getting up-and-down for par from the short side of the par-three 14th.
Following pars on holes 15 and 16, McIlroy closed the door on the field with birdies at Wentworth’s two closing par fives.
McIlroy got up-and-down for birdie from a very difficult position right of the 17th green and then put the tournament away when he got up-and-down yet again for a birdie at the par-five 18th.
While McIlroy clearly had some help from 54-hole leader Thomas Bjorn, who posted a final-round 75 to finish in a tie for third, his five-under 32 on the back nine was some of the most impressive pressure-golf McIlroy has played in quite some time.
"I guess when I got inside the ropes this week, it was a little bit of a release, and I was on my own and doing what I do best, which is playing golf, and that sort of gave me four or five hours of serenity or sanctuary or whatever you want to call it," McIlroy said after his round, as reported by ESPN.com.
All professional golfers are constantly dealing with issues off of the course that they must block out when they step inside the ropes if they are to have any chance at success.
That being said, McIlroy was clearly dealing with more than most off of the golf course during the past several years.
It was not uncommon to see McIlroy walk off of the golf course in Singapore on a Sunday, appear at one of Wozniacki’s tennis tournaments in Europe on Monday and Tuesday, only to fly back across the world to attend another golf tournament in China on Thursday.
Take arguably the most global tournament schedule of any golfer in the world and multiply that several times over due to his additional travels to see Wozniacki, and that was essentially what McIlroy had been dealing with since 2011.
This type of unrelenting long-range travel would take a toll on any professional athlete but particularly a golfer, where practice time is so vitally important to tournament success.
While McIlroy may have never publicly admitted as much, it would be virtually impossible to contend that the constant travelling to spend time with Wozniacki wasn’t cutting into McIlroy’s practice time, particularly over the past year-and-a-half when McIlroy was attempting to familiarize himself with his new Nike equipment.
This type of constant travelling also takes a toll on an athlete’s physical well-being. Fighting through jet lag several times a year is one thing, but fighting through jet lag nearly every other week is quite another thing, even for a young and fit 25-year-old.
Now, none of us should in any way pretend to know what went on between McIlroy and Wozniacki behind closed doors over the past three years. For all we know, they could have had a perfect relationship and were more than willing to endure the constant travelling and drain on their professional lives in order to spend time with one another.
But one can only report on what they observe in-between the ropes, and it was clear that McIlroy had a sense of calm determination from his opening tee shot on Thursday right on through his tournament-winning birdie putt on the 72nd hole on Sunday that we had not seen in quite some time.
Perhaps the golf course was the only place McIlroy felt at ease during a week-long tabloid firestorm.
Or, perhaps McIlroy felt as if he had removed a weight from his shoulders and was now free and clear to concentrate on being successful at the only profession he had ever wanted to pursue.
Whatever the reason may be, this was a very different McIlroy out on the golf course at Wentworth this week.
This was a player who much more closely reassembled the determined young man who captured two major championship titles in two years and reached the upper echelons of the game in his early 20s than the young man who has looked lost, frustrated and downright exhausted over the past year-and-a-half.
While an exciting young love story may have been shattered last week, the golf world appears to have reacquired one of its biggest stars, which is of course a selfishly positive development for those of us who consider ourselves fans of the game.
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