AKRON, Ohio – Golf is not a game of easy. There is no simple way to attack this pursuit, no effortless strategy to get the ball into the hole in as few strokes as possible. Like a dam that keeps springing leaks, as soon as one aspect starts going right, another often goes awry. There is no perfect.
This is hardly a new phenomenon. As Bobby Jones, one of the greatest to ever play, once preached, “No one will ever have golf under his thumb. No round will ever be so good it could not have been better.”
Someone needs to explain this to Rory McIlroy.
That’s because McIlroy didn’t just win on Sunday, didn’t just win his second straight title, didn’t just win his second straight title by tapping in a straightforward par putt on the final hole to cruise into a trophy ceremony.
No, he didn’t just win. He won easy.
There was a sweet poetry to this latest triumph, like a classical music composer presiding over a brilliant symphony. After rounds of 69-64-66 to open his WGC-Bridgestone Invitational campaign, McIlroy started with three birdies in the final frame and basically put things into cruise control from there, his mammoth drives off the tee helping alleviate all of the pressure that usually follows a player in that situation.
For fellow players who have dreams of winning major championships and other big-time events against their 25-year-old wunderkind peer, the scary part isn’t even that it looked easy.
It’s that he’s making a habit of this.
“It felt normal,” McIlroy explained after the two-stroke victory. “It's never effortless. You're trying hard out there. You're trying not to make it look like you're trying hard. … [But] if I can keep making it look effortless, then that's a good thing.”
There are plenty of good things going on with his game right now – and most of them start with a driver in his hand.
Not exactly a muscular behemoth, McIlroy led the field in driving distance at Firestone South, averaging 315.4 yards per drive on Thursday, 321.6 on Friday, 320.1 on Saturday and 313.6 on Sunday. It takes a little gallows humor to suggest he was obviously taking a conservative approach in the final round.
Again, golf is never easy, but the game does become decidedly less complicated when hitting the ball such prodigious lengths leads to hitting it shorter distances into the greens.
That novelty hasn’t been lost on McIlroy.
“The longer the club, the harder it is to hit,” he surmised. “So if you're hitting arguably the hardest club in your bag to hit that well, then the other stuff should sort of fall in line or fall into place. I feel like that's what's sort of happened.
“Whenever I drive the ball well, I always put myself in positions where I can attack flags and try and make birdies. When I'm swinging it well with a driver, that sort of funnels through the rest of my game.”
If this sounds like a familiar refrain, there’s a reason. Right around the turn of the century, Tiger Woods had a knack for breaking the game down to its simplest elements and creating an aura that couldn’t be touched when he had his best stuff.
McIlroy certainly isn’t at that level yet, but he’s starting to show some flashes of it. After the win, he was careful not to compare himself to Woods, but acknowledged that he’s searching for that sort of influence.
“I grew up watching Tiger dominate in this tournament and dominate pretty much everywhere else he played,” he said. “I dreamed of one day trying to do something like that.”
He’s doing it now. He’s making the difficult look easy, making the complex look simple.
It won’t always be this way for McIlroy, of course. But he’s got momentum on his side. His best performance is a step above everybody else’s best performance.
And he’s doing it all so effortlessly.
“That's sort of what's going on at the minute,” he said with a smile. “I'm going to try to keep doing it for as long as possible because it's working pretty well.”