If he felt burdened by his upcoming court case, Rory McIlroy sure didn’t look like it Sunday in Dubai as he waved his cap, flung his ball into the crowd and hoisted yet another trophy.
Technically, it was his first title since the PGA, but in the past five months he has five top-five finishes in eight starts, including four – yes, four – runners-up. A long time between wins for Rory, perhaps, but in the big picture it looks like a drought in Seattle.
After his three-shot win at the Dubai Desert Classic, McIlroy’s last seven starts on the European Tour look like this: Win-Win-Win-2nd-2nd-2nd-Win.
“I felt like I was finishing second every time I was teeing it up,” he said, “so it was time for a change.”
After distractions derailed his 2013 season – a wholesale equipment change, a messy lawsuit, a high-profile relationship – McIlroy has proven adept at sidestepping chaos.
Last May, when he broke off his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki, he went out the same week and won Europe’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, his first title on a major tour in 18 months.
And now, with a “tedious” and “nasty” court case against his former management company looming next week in Dublin, McIlroy cast those issues aside to capture his 16th career title.
At stake next week is his reputation, and a slice of his considerable fortune, but McIlroy is eager to simply put this most recent chapter behind him. He may have to spend up to six days in a courtroom, and the opposition will likely be fiercer than what he encountered in Dubai, but after that it’s time to move on. To look forward. To turn his full attention to playing golf, to Augusta, to the rest of the major slate.
Publicly, at least, McIlroy said that he wasn’t bothered by the litigation, that he’ll merely brush up on his “homework” on the long flight to the Irish capital.
And in Dubai it sure looked like his sole focus was on his game.
When the world No. 1 opened with 66 in the desert, he shrugged that it was kind of number that he expected to shoot these days. That’s not to say it always works out – just ask any touring professional – but if he drives the ball in play, takes care of the par 5s and limits his mental miscues, well, he said, 66 is a reasonable number to expect. Frightening.
He followed with rounds of 64-66, and though the final round was his scrappiest of the week, and his Sunday 70 was his worst score of the tournament, he never led by fewer than three on the final day. “I did what I had to do to keep my nose in front,” he said, and now his seven-year record in this event includes two wins and five top 10s.
It was not WGC-Dubai, but the tournament awarded nearly as many first-place world-ranking points as Phoenix, and Rory still beat a field that included world No. 2 Henrik Stenson, No. 6 Sergio Garcia and reigning U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer. To bolster his résumé, to grow his legend, McIlroy needs to win events like these with regularity, and he did.
Indeed, Rory is starting to perform how Tiger seemingly always did – by contending every week, by winning big periodically and by stiff-arming the rest of the contenders in the rankings … even with the distractions of being one of the world’s most visible athletes swirling around him.