Rory McIlroy won five events around the world, including the PGA Championship; won money titles on both major tours; and captured the world No. 1 ranking. His 2012 season was brilliant, but will 2013 be better? GolfChannel.com writers offer up their opinions in this Punch Shot.
By RYAN LAVNER
This isn’t to say Rory McIlroy won’t have a great year, or even a very good year. This isn’t to say his 2012 season, in which he won five times worldwide, including his second major, was an aberration. This isn’t to say that the impending equipment switch will diminish his immense talent.
But even a year with two wins and a major – what I think he will achieve in 2013 – can’t compare with last season, when he compiled one of the best resumes we’ve seen on the PGA Tour this century. The four wins. The $8.04 million in earnings. The rousing triumph at Kiawah. The Player of the Year honors.
Unless he picks off two majors in 2013 – Augusta and Muirfield, anyone? – Rory won’t top last season. And that’s OK – only one other guy can boast standards so high.
By RANDALL MELL
Rory McIlroy turns 24 in May, and he’s still learning on so many levels. He’s still learning how to balance his game against his larger life, but he sure seemed to find the right balance in the last half of the 2012 season. McIlroy’s record-setting eight-shot victory at the PGA Championship and his two FedEx Cup titles felt like a warning shot as to what’s coming. He beat the best fields in big events in a big way. McIlroy will have his highs and lows, but his highs will be spectacular. Who has enough game to stop McIlroy when he’s hitting on all cylinders? Tiger Woods might be the only guy right now who can beat McIlroy when McIlroy’s at his best.
The equipment change McIlroy will make this new season will bring new questions and heightened scrutiny early in the year, but McIlroy is savvy. There may be a transition, but he’ll figure it out quickly. He solves puzzles well. We saw that in his bounce back from The Masters collapse in 2011. We saw it in his realizing his mistake in making the European Tour more important than the PGA Tour. We’re seeing it now in his setting up an American base with his purchase of a new home in South Florida. McIlroy is truly set to make himself at home on the PGA Tour this year.
By JASON SOBEL
You know, a guy can lose a lot of street cred and – if he’s so inclined toward such things – a lot of quid betting against Rory McIlroy. The kid is 23 years old, ranked No. 1 in the world and already owns a pair of major titles by eight-shot margins.
And yet, asked to predict McIlroy’s impending short-term future, I see him taking a step back, as minor as it might be.
He won five times worldwide last year, including a jaunt around Kiawah that made it look like his personal playground. This year, though, is already starting with some turbulence in Camp McIlroy. He will reportedly switch to Nike equipment soon, though an official announcement hasn’t been made and it’s unknown exactly how much of his bag will carry a swoosh logo. That decision has already had a domino effect, with Oakley taking legal action over breach of contract.
I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I like my superstars to start big campaigns.
Toss in a denial over a rumored engagement to girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki and the looming decision over whom he’ll represent for the 2016 Olympic Games, and there’s already plenty of tumult swirling around McIlroy before he even hits his first shot of the season.
Don’t expect the guy to drop from the ranks of the game’s elite this year – far from it – but all signs point to a season which should prove to be a bit more difficult than the last one.
By WILL GRAY
Let’s face it: Tiger Woods has spoiled us. Watching the manner in which he dominated during the prime of his career changed the way we define a great season – and perhaps more importantly, our expectations of how consistently that greatness will be replicated by the game’s best.
Last year, Rory McIlroy won five times worldwide, including a major, ascended to the top of the world rankings and captured the money titles on both the PGA and European Tours. Replicating those feats this year, let alone improving upon them, will be far from automatic. But because of what we saw from Woods in seasons like 2000, 2006 and 2009, we assume that the current “best player in the world” will have a similarly limitless ceiling year-in and year-out.
Likewise, before we hand the Ulsterman a major (or two) in 2013, consider the fact that the list of players to capture majors in three consecutive years, in recent memory, is a short one: Woods (1999-2002, 2005-2008) and Phil Mickelson (2004-2006). Before that, you have to go back to Tom Watson (1980-1983). So while another major for McIlroy would not be surprising, accomplishing the feat against the deepest fields in the game for a third consecutive year should be viewed as a remarkably rare feat.
I expect a good year from McIlroy – perhaps even a great one by non-Woods standards. But as he enters his first full year with a target on his back, with new equipment in his hands, I am not convinced that a 5-plus-win season will happen as easily as it did for Tiger.