PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Rory McIlroy’s peers aren’t seeing his near misses this season.
They’re seeing how he’s nearly dominating.
“Where he might win four events in six weeks, or win a couple in a row,” Justin Thomas said Tuesday at The Players Championship. “I know he knows that. I know we all know that. He’s playing some unbelievable golf.”
Jim Furyk sees that, too.
“The guy is super talented, and it's just a matter of time,” Furyk said. “He's going to keep knocking on the door, and then when the flood gates open, look out. We’re all going to be in trouble for a little while.”
McIlroy is the center of the golf universe this week with Tiger Woods missing the PGA Tour’s flagship event for the fourth time in the last seven years.
McIlroy’s the world No. 1 for the 100th week of his career. He’s also the defending champion at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. He’s trying to become the first player in history to win The Players in back-to-back years.
“He's certainly the best player in the world right now, has floated in and out of the best player in the world for his whole career, it seems like,” said Webb Simpson, the 2018 Players champion. “His bad play and bad stretches are better than most every guy out here. And when he's playing his best, he's hard to beat.”
McIlroy is doing everything but winning to start yet another calendar year, but there isn’t the same sense of uncertainty in his finishing T-5 or better in his first four starts of 2020. Not the way there was last year. There aren’t the same hard questions over whether he’s blowing opportunities.
McIlroy started last year with five finishes of T-6 or better coming to The Players and then won here. He turned that momentum into two more PGA Tour titles, the FedExCup Playoffs title and PGA Tour Player of the Year honors before winning yet a fourth title at year’s end.
“This week last year was huge for me in terms of sort of getting the monkey off my back a little bit,” McIlroy said.
There’s good mojo in that.
“A lot of similarities between this year and last year,” McIlroy said. “Obviously, it would be wonderful to replicate that this year.”
Working his way through those disappointing close calls last year, McIlroy learned to manage frustration as much as he learned to manage his golf ball.
This marks McIlroy’s eighth run atop the Official World Golf Ranking. He reigns this time with wisdom gained in the four-year journey it took getting back on top.
“I've had some really good success following this path that I'm on,” McIlroy said. “I'm just really trying to focus on doing the little things right, practicing good habits day in, day out. If I keep doing those, then the byproduct is winning.”
So the lost opportunities on Sundays at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, last month’s WGC-Mexico Championship and Genesis Invitational and January’s Farmers Insurance Open don’t seem so troubling.
“Yeah, I definitely don't feel like I'm too far away,” McIlroy said.
Instead, there’s confidence gained knowing where patience can lead him.
“I don't think you can ever go into result mode,” McIlroy said. “I don't think that works. I don't think that helps anything.
“I think you just have to keep going about your business, doing your thing. I think the only way to not win is to concentrate on the results . . . If I can do a few different things in my golf game just a little bit better, those thirds and fifths will hopefully turn into wins.”
McIlroy would love to put it all together in a run that takes him through the Masters next month, that gives him that elusive final leg of the career Grand Slam.
There wouldn’t a better time for McIlroy to peak than over this next month.
“Rory has already created the opinion that he's going to go down as one of the great players ever in golf, which is great for him, great for us, great for our Tour,” Simpson said.
Another Players trophy and a first green jacket will leave no doubt.