Rory McIlroy should be pleased with his body of work this season. After all, he was able to move from 13th at the start to his current standing of third in world rankings on the strength of his consistency; Top 25 finishes, including two victories, in 11 of 13 events underscore his capacity to crowd the leaderboard every time he tees off. And, yes, his competitiveness extends to the major championships; not for nothing did he post aggregate scores among the five highest in three of four Grand Slam stops. In other words, he has a lot to be thankful for at 33.
That said, McIlroy isn’t just any other golfer. He’s the most popular personality outside of Tiger Woods for a reason, and his singular skill set has long set him up to compete for the hardware in the sport’s holy grails. Which is why, viewed from critical lenses, his myriad accomplishments since he last brought home a major title indicate an alarming inability to get the job done. In the 31 Slams since he emerged triumphant at the 2014 PGA Championship, he managed to lump himself with the best 10 a whopping 17 times, and the best five in nine of those occasions. And yet, for all the work he did to stay in contention, not once did he go all the way.
Take the just-concluded British Open, in which McIlroy began the final round with the provisional lead. By the time he knocked in his eighth straight par on the back nine, he had no choice but to settle for third, two strokes off the pace set by World Number 23 Cameron Smith off a blazing finish. Disappointment was etched in his face as he met members of the media, left to rue the outcome as he fended off queries on What Ifs and Could Have Beens. Not that he gave the Claret Jug away on the 150th Anniversary of the tournament in the birthplace of golf; he had no bogeys, and every single drive he blasted found the fairway. And he certainly gave himself chances; he hit 12 of 16 greens in regulation. Bottom line, however, his short stick left much to be desired.
At any other time, McIlroy’s two-under 70 may have been enough to net him the crown. Not on Sunday, though — not when conditions were benign and red marks filled the leaderboard. It’s telling that, outside of playing partner Viktor Hovland, his final-round total was the worst of the top 17 on the list. But, hey, that’s golf. And if there’s anything he has learned from his travails, it’s to ignore all the negativity around him. The sport’s hard enough to conquer without armchair naysayers and so-called experts making the horizon even more murky. So while he may be downcast until the Masters rolls around seven months from now, he would also do well to remember that a glass half empty also happens to be half full.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.