AKRON, Ohio - There is no way to definitively predict how a major champion will follow his celebrated triumph. There's no calculable method for knowing exactly how one will react to reaching the pinnacle of achievement in this game.
Will he let his guard down, allowing himself to enjoy the spoils in the warm afterglow? Or will it fuel his desire even more, leaving him hungrier to taste victory again?
Like most major champions, Rory McIlroy is professing the latter. He's saying all the right things. He believes his recent Open Championship title was just the start of more winning ways rather than the culmination.
“I always feel like winning a major,” he explained, “is almost a springboard in a way.”
Unlike most other champions, his game might back up that sentiment.
Already in his young career, McIlroy has displayed a knack for not easing off the gas pedal when he's got his best stuff working. Call it strong mental fortitude or just the happy byproduct of a streaky inclination, but either way it shows in the results.
Three years ago, he countered his U.S. Open title with a T-25 in his next start at the Open Championship, but soon regained form, finishing sixth or better in six of his next eight starts, a run that ended with a win at the Hong Kong Open less than six months after he tore up Congressional. The next year, he followed a PGA Championship victory with a T-24 in his next appearance, then won each of his two starts after that and once again in the European Tour finale.
That probably sounds like a normal progression, using the major victories to propel himself to more success, but the truth is that McIlroy remains an outlier when it comes to doubling down on major prosperity.
More peculiarly, neither have two of last year's major winners - Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner. Or Ernie Els from the year before. Heck, even three of the four major champions from a half-decade ago have yet to ascend to any victory circle, anywhere, in the time since.
Don’t expect McIlroy to fall victim to a similar fate.
“I think every time you have success, you need to reassess your goals,” he said Tuesday in advance of this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “A lot of the goals that I set myself for the start of the year, I've achieved already. So that's when you have to reassess and say like, OK, you've boxed that off. It's great. Celebrate it for a couple of days, but then you've got to move on.
“You've got to keep moving forward and keep thinking about what you want to achieve from now until the end of the year.”
Call it a classic case of a sentiment that’s easier said than done.
After all, it’s not as if the likes of Watson, Kaymer, Mickelson, Dufner and Els have packed it in and simply been content with their most recent major wins. And it’s not as if they’re each playing poorly, either.
The simple truth is that success doesn’t come easy. In the cyclical nature of professional golf, where losing heavily outweighs winning, even for the greatest players of all time, following any victory with another is an intricate task laden with pratfalls. Following a major victory with more wins in the short term is even tougher.
And yet, here’s McIlroy, just two weeks removed from his latest major conquest, sounding not only confident in his upcoming chances to build his resume, but hungry for more.
“I feel like I've got a lot of momentum and I can carry that through to the end of the year,” he boasted. “Hopefully ride that and play some really good golf and some golf similar to what you saw at Hoylake.”
Those words echo what so many other major champions have decreed in the past. Few have been able to live up to their own hype, though, instead failing to promptly build on that momentum.
So far in his career, McIlroy has proven to be an outlier. Starting this week, he’ll have an opportunity to prove that he isn’t all talk this time, either.