It wasn’t the season Rory McIlroy envisioned, but it wasn’t too shabby, either.
The world No. 3 closed out his year with rounds of 65 and 66 to win the DP World Tour Championship by one and became the first player to win back-to-back Race to Dubai titles. He also won the European Tour’s season-long points race in 2012.
“It’s the best way to finish 2015, and I can’t wait for next year,” McIlroy said.
Neither can we.
McIlroy heads into a two-month break full of confidence after what he described as an “A” but not “A+” season.
That’s because Jordan Spieth (Masters and U.S. Open) and Jason Day (PGA Championship) captured three of the four majors, and an injured McIlroy was unable to defend the claret jug at St. Andrews.
"I think it's a lost year already, just because I didn't win a major," McIlroy said in September at the Tour Championship. “I judge myself on the biggest tournaments, and the biggest tournaments we have are the four majors, and I played OK in them but I didn't win. So ultimately, it's a year that I guess got away from me."
Spieth and Day both had five wins and spent the summer and fall exchanging the No. 1 ranking. Day is spending the rest of the year at home with his family after his wife gave birth to the couple’s second child.
That means Spieth will almost certainly end the year No. 1 as he returns next week to defend titles at the Australian Open and the Hero World Challenge.
McIlroy was the undisputed No. 1 player in the world earlier this year, and he looked to complete the career Grand Slam at the Masters. But he finished fourth at Augusta and watched as Spieth won the first two majors of the year and took the spotlight away.
Spieth and McIlroy were on a collision course at St. Andrews until McIlroy posted on Instagram July 6 that he injured a ligament in his left ankle playing soccer with his friends. He missed the Scottish Open, Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
The Ulsterman returned at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, but his game wasn’t sharp enough to contend.
McIlroy said he was using the final events of 2015 to get ready for 2016, and after his win on Sunday he certainly looks ready to go after Spieth and Day for No. 1.
Starting the final round one stroke behind Andy Sullivan, McIlroy didn’t take the lead until he made his eighth birdie of the day at the par-4 15th. The four-time major champion was two strokes ahead standing on the par-3 17th, but then he nearly gave it all away.
McIlroy blocked his tee shot so far right it never had a chance of finding the green and splashed into the water. After hitting his third shot from the drop zone, McIlroy did what great players do and drained a 40-foot bogey putt and gave a fist pump as he was able to keep a one-stroke lead over Sullivan.
“I dug myself out of a hole there,” McIlroy said.
The Englishman, who won three times this season, was unable to birdie the par-5 closing hole, and McIlroy calmly rolled in a short par putt for his fourth trophy of the season.
With his ankle healed and his confidence restored, McIlroy will now rest up over the holidays for his 2016 debut in January in Abu Dhabi, where he will be joined by Spieth and Players champion Rickie Fowler.
And, no, McIlroy will probably not be playing soccer during his break.
But if he does?
“I’ll play goalie,” he said.