By JASON SOBEL
I’d love to step out on a limb here. I’d love to make some off-the-wall prediction, then be able to gloat about it nine months from now.
But sorry, I just can’t do it. I’m picking Rory McIlroy to win another PGA Tour Player of the Year award.
I could sit here and break down all the reasons – he drives the ball like some sort of Byron Nelson/Greg Norman hybrid; his mid-iron trajectory is the equivalent of most players’ sand wedges; and, oh yeah, he makes plenty of big putts.
You knew all of that already, though.
Just as you know that while the best player often doesn’t win on a given week, talent always prevails over the span of an entire season.
McIlroy will always be streaky. He’ll miss a few cuts this year. And he might not repeat that summer stretch which led to the year’s final two major titles. But he’s the world’s best player right now. That will be enough to land him this award for a third time in four years.
It certainly won’t be his last, either.
By RYAN LAVNER
It’s tempting to go cute here: Maybe Bubba Watson will build off his best-ever year, or Jordan Spieth will become a household name in his third season on Tour, or Tiger Woods will remind everyone who is still No. 1.
But chances are, we’re looking at another year of Rory McIlroy claiming the top spot.
We’ve already seen that McIlroy is prone to peaks and valleys in his career (2012-2013), but this time feels different. He’s more confident than he’s ever been on the course, he’s comfortable with his equipment and who he is off the course, and he seems destined to build on his memorable 2014 campaign.
If Rory can skate through the first few months of the season relatively unscathed – no prolonged court-case drama, no breakdown at Augusta – then he should author another multiple-win season and perhaps a major, too. (Hello, St. Andrews.) On a parity-filled tour that has never been stronger and deeper, that should be more than enough to earn POY honors.
By REX HOGGARD
Observers say that nasty lawsuit will keep him from properly preparing for the year’s first major.
Historians will point out the familiar ebb and flow of his young career and his reliance on that nuclear driver to dominate – you know the drill: live by the long ball, die by the long ball.
But unless Bernhard Langer finds a fountain of youth that passes World Anti-Doping Agency scrutiny, Rory McIlroy is the easy favorite to collect his second consecutive PGA Tour Player of the Year title this season.
While an argument could be made for others to secure the Jack Nicklaus Award, the world No. 1’s play to close out 2014 leaves little room for devil’s advocacy.
Although McIlroy’s ongoing legal row with his former management company may occupy some of his time in the spring, the Northern Irishman has proven himself as adept at compartmentalizing (see Wozniacki, Caroline, 2014) as he is with a 460cc driver in his hands.
Nor does it seem likely McIlroy will lapse into another lull like he did in 2013 when he failed to win on the PGA Tour and didn’t seriously contend in any of the year’s major championships.
The Ulsterman’s 2014 was simply too dominant, too textbook to expect anything other than a repeat performance in 2015.
By RANDALL MELL
Rory McIlroy’s legal dispute with his former management company complicates the question, but if Las Vegas were laying odds he would still be the overwhelming favorite to win PGA Tour Player of the Year for the third time in four years.
With a trial scheduled to start in February, McIlroy, 25, will have some more distractions to contend with as he gets himself ready for the new year. There’s no telling how the suit will unfold and how it will affect him, but McIlroy found his stride through all the distractions this past year and won four times around the world, including two majors.
He’s growing up on and off the course navigating challenges large and small. Through all this there’s the formidable possibility that he grows even stronger mentally and emotionally stiff-arming challenges on his way to a career grand slam and a special place in history.
The bet here is his heart and talent keeps prevailing.
By WILL GRAY
The Rory Era continues in 2015.
McIlroy enters the new year as the undisputed top player in golf, with two of 2014's four biggest trophies on his mantle. With an equipment change and relationship turmoil in the rear-view mirror, expect the Ulsterman to continue to put distance between himself and the rest of the game’s best.
Sure, there will be challenges. Tiger Woods will undoubtedly be better this year than last, as will Phil Mickelson. But when McIlroy is playing at a high level, he is nearly unbeatable regardless of venue. While off-the-course issues will continue in 2015 with his legal action with Horizon, McIlroy has proven in the past an ability to put such issues aside and thrive inside the ropes. Expect a repeat of that in 2015, as well as a repeat for McIlroy as the PGA Tour’s top man.