PARAMUS, N.J. – Welp - so much for the Rory McIlroy Era.
This so-called superstar hasn’t won a damned thing in a week and a half. Hasn’t broken par in a competitive round. Hasn’t even made a single birdie.
In today’s “What have you done for me lately?” society – “the tyranny of now,” as it’s been called – we not only expect more from a player like McIlroy, we demand it. And quite frankly, he hasn’t delivered.
Never mind the fact that he hasn’t played during this time. That’s a mere footnote to this story.
OK, maybe not.
Maybe it’s time to turn off the sarcasm font and get serious.
After all, if McIlroy can win the Open Championship followed by the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational followed by the PGA Championship and still be wearing his game face entering this week’s Barclays, then the rest of us should be able to maintain a modicum of sincerity, as well.
Judging by his demeanor so far, it doesn’t appear as if quenching his thirst by drinking out of each of those trophies has diminished his hunger for winning more of them.
McIlroy is just the fifth player since 1980 to win three consecutive PGA Tour starts and this week will attempt to join Tiger Woods as the only players to win more than three in a row.
If that statistic alone isn’t enough to motivate him for the upcoming stretch run, then he’ll rely on something slightly less tangible instead.
“I think it would be a shame,” he offered, “if I'm playing this good golf and to just say, ‘Look, you know, I've had a great year, it's been an awesome summer; I'm going to just see what happens for the next few weeks and not really work hard.’ But I want to finish the season well. I want to be up there in contention week in, week out. I feel like the season I had, it deserves a finish like that.”
Those only sound like uncharacteristically wise words from a 25-year-old if you fail to consider exactly which 25-year-old is the source.
McIlroy’s maturity level on the course is equaled by his wisdom off of it, which might help to explain why he hasn’t parlayed these three recent victories into a devil-may-care attitude. In fact, getting back into competition may be the only normalcy he’s seen in a while.
“Obviously I'm coming off the back of a few good weeks and I'm just trying to keep it going for as long as I can, try and keep the momentum going, and actually I'm happy to be back on a golf course and into sort of a regular routine again,” he explained. “The last week or so has been pretty hectic. It's nice to get back to what I do and get back into some routine, and excited to get playing again.”
There’s an interesting dichotomy between McIlroy’s attitude now and at this point last year. Back then, he was wrestling with a trying campaign that hadn’t yielded a win yet, more than eight months after public criticism following his switch to Nike equipment.
Having seen the game’s highs and lows so recently, he was asked Wednesday which generated more internal pressure: Attempting to succeed after months of failure or on the heels of so much previous success?
“You haven't won for a while and you're almost trying too hard in a way, where it seems when you get on a run like this and momentum is on your side, everything just sort of falls away,” he said. “Like a lot of things fell my way at the PGA a couple weeks ago that helped me win there.
“Both scenarios bring their own pressures, but I think it's definitely when you're on a run like this, it's definitely easier to get the job done rather than if you haven't won in a while.”
While we’re on the subject of comparison, this current run much more resembles that of his 2012 late-season rally, when he claimed the PGA Championship and two FedEx Cup playoff events, only to finish second in the overall points standings.
For others, it might be difficult to remain motivated to win the PGA Tour’s end-of-year series after joining history with a pair of major titles, but McIlroy is continuing to use these impending events as further motivation.
“It's a big four weeks coming up. It's one of the only things that I haven't achieved in this game is winning the FedEx Cup. I came close in 2012. It would be great to finish off what has been my best year to date with a victory there.”
Those aren’t the words of a player ready to pack it in and keep filling up his trophies. They sound like a guy ready to win more of ‘em.