Rory McIlroy may have apologized to the fans Sunday for spoiling Adam Scott’s bid for the Australian triple crown, but make no mistake: His deep exhale after holing the winning putt on the 72nd hole showed just how much this drought-busting victory truly meant to him.
“It’s frustrating, because you know the level of golf you can play but you just aren’t able to play at that level,” McIlroy told reporters afterward, via The Age in Australia. “You’re working hard, you’re trying to find the reasons why … It’s frustrating, but I never lost belief. Golf is a long career, I’m 24 years old, and I can get a bit impatient at times. If I take a step back and look at the big picture, it hasn’t been too bad of a year. It’s been made a lot better with this win.”
No kidding. In a year of unflattering headlines, this one should give McIlroy a spark heading into 2014.
His year got off to a rocky start, when in his highly anticipated season debut he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi. Instead of playing early and often to break in his new Nike equipment, McIlroy instead played only four events by the time April rolled around, a scheduling decision he eventually admitted was wrong.
Though he placed second in San Antonio, he didn’t finish better than 25th in any of the year’s first three majors. He tied for eighth at the PGA Championship, but he still bowed out early in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Along the way, there was also a much-criticized walk-off at the Honda Classic, a bent club at the U.S. Open, a split with his management company (trial date October 2014) and constant rumors about his relationship status with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.
It was a stark contrast to a year ago, when the beloved world No. 1 won five times worldwide and captured Player of the Year honors on both sides of the pond.
But for as lost as he had looked at times this season, McIlroy was clearly rounding into the form just as the year began to draw to a close. His run started with a T-2 at the OneAsia Tour’s Kolon Korean Open, and he followed that up with back-to-back top-6 finishes at the WGC-HSBC Champions and DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
He was still winless, yes, but he had displayed enough good form that Tiger Woods, among others, predicted that the 24-year-old would get off the schneid by the time the calendar flipped to 2014.
Woods proved prophetic, if only because Scott’s putter stopped cooperating on the back nine Sunday at Royal Sydney. There was a two-shot swing on the final hole – McIlroy sank a 15-footer for birdie, Scott bogeyed after sailing his approach over the green – and the former world No. 1 avoided his first winless season since 2008. He’s still scheduled to play in Woods’ tournament next week in California.
“You have to go through the lows, and I’m not saying it was a low this year because it’s not like I have plummeted off the face of the earth,” McIlroy said, according to the report. “I’m still sixth in the world, so it’s not that bad. It’s not the level I feel like I can play to, but I feel like I’m getting back there.”