McIlroy ready to get back to work at St. Andrews

Rory and Gerry McIlroy during a practice round at the 2014 Alfred Dunhill Links. (Getty)

RSS

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – The photo went viral on Twitter, Rory McIlroy wearing a mini-kilt and red wig and nothing else as Europe celebrated another Ryder Cup victory.

Just don't ask him for details.

''Honestly? Honestly ... I don't remember,'' McIlroy said on Wednesday. ''The timeline gets a bit fuzzy about midnight.''

Far more vivid was his play at Gleneagles, which the British Open and PGA champion referred to his best of the year. McIlroy started 3-3-3-3-3-2 in dismantling Rickie Fowler, part of an early surge that kept the Americans from any thoughts of a comeback.

McIlroy contributed one point on the final day, and two other points over the course of the Ryder Cup. More than points, however, the 25-year-old from Northern Ireland established himself as a team leader at such a tender age.

He was coming off back-to-back major titles, with a World Golf Championship in between. He is the undisputed No. 1 player in golf.

''I felt like it was my time ... to step up and be one of the leaders of the team, especially after the season I've had, and being the world No. 1,'' McIlroy said. ''I needed to go out there and set an example and lead by example, and just happy I was able to do that on Sunday.''

That wasn't the case during the early days of Tiger Woods.

Woods lost to former factory worker Costantino Rocca at Valderrama. It wasn't until his fifth Ryder Cup that Woods won more matches than he lost. He has played on only one winning team in seven appearances.

That doesn't take away from Woods' status as the best player of his generation, arguably ever.

But it mattered to McIlroy.

''My record in the Ryder Cup is important to me,'' McIlroy said. ''The three Ryder Cups, I haven't been beaten in the singles. I'd love to keep that record going throughout my career. And I slightly improved my record at the Ryder Cup this year (6-4-4). At the age of 25, to have won three Ryder Cups and four majors is something I'm very proud of – eight years younger than anyone else.''

He was referring to Tom Watson, a month past his 34th birthday when he won a third Ryder Cup to go along with eight majors. Then again, Jack Nicklaus was 29 and already had the career Grand Slam before he could even play in his first Ryder Cup.

His record outside the Ryder Cup is pretty good, too, and that's where McIlroy returns his focus over the next couple of months.

Boy Wonder could use a break, though there are few spots better to play golf than the Dunhill Links Championship, which starts on Thursday over a three-course rotation of St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. McIlroy will be playing with his father, Gerry.

Three other Europeans from the winning team are playing – Victor Dubuisson, Stephen Gallacher and Martin Kaymer.

McIlroy already captured the PGA Tour money title and he can wrap up the Race to Dubai with a victory this week. If not, he has three more events left on the European Tour schedule before defending his title in the Australian Open. He wants to finish strong, though nothing can take away from this year.

There also is a quick detour to Bermuda for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf.

''I'm going to go out with the main objective just to enjoy the last couple of months of the season – still practice pretty hard and work hard, but at the same time, it's been a long season. There's been a lot of intense tournaments, and it's the point of the season where I'm letting it wind down a little bit.''

It was the Dunhill Links that effectively kicked off his career.

McIlroy was 18 when he finished third at the tournament on a sponsor's exemption, allowing him to earn his European Tour card without going to qualifying school. He also posted a record-tying 63 on the Old Course at St. Andrews in the opening round of the 2010 British Open (followed by an 80 the next day).

With two rounds on the Old Course, assuming he makes the cut, it will be an early look ahead of the Open next year.

''I always said I felt like St. Andrews was my best chance to win an Open Championship. Obviously, I proved myself wrong this year,'' McIlroy said of his wire-to-wire win at Royal Liverpool. ''It would be great to come back and defend it here.''