RORY MCILROY HAD been knocking on the winning door over the last few weeks to some degree of frustration, but his persistence paid off for him at the weekend.
Since the beginning of September he has recorded two third-place and two runner-up finishes.
It’s been an exceptional run of form that has gone a little bit under the radar given the heroics of Luke Donald playing the golf of his life and also Sergio Garcia getting back into the winner’s circle.
There had been signs of frustration from McIlroy, particularly after the Dunhill Links Championship where he admitted after coming second that he was “disappointed it wasn’t me lifting the trophy.”
Professionals don’t like coming second, particularly those as ambitious as Rory.
His victory at the Shanghai Masters this weekend, however, will add significant gloss to what has already been a great season.
Compare him to the man he faced in the playoff to win at Shanghai, Anthony Kim. McIlroy is 22 years old. When Kim was 22, he was a hot-shot on the PGA Tour and won twice in that season (2008). In many ways, he gave a template or barometer for what players of that age and of such incredible ability should or could be achieving.
Any season in which a player wins a Major is remarkable, but the fact that McIlroy reinforced the opinion that he can be a player who wins consistently or regularly will be an added feather in his cap moving forward.
The more he wins, the more he will believe that he can win and the more he will learn how to win. With each win, he also sows more seeds in the minds of his opponents and fellow competitors that when McIlroy’s name is on the leaderboard, you know you’re dealing with a guy who knows how to get the job done. He’s gradually moving away from being the new kid on the block to the young established professional who we expect to see on the leaderboard every time.
You also have to bear in mind his recent change of management company from ISM to Horizon. Whatever about his specific reasons or motives behind doing so, it is a sign that he is not afraid of making changes when he feels it necessary and is looking for ways he feels he can keep improving and developing his career.
Horizon may not have been expecting to be celebrating a win so soon, but both sides of the relationship will certainly see it as a way of starting as they mean to continue.
He may have left it late in the season to record his second win, but that now makes it four wins as a professional who is still only 22 years of age.
Even more significant is that McIlroy’s season was better than the last, which itself was better than the one before. He’s continuing to make progress and raise his level of achievement. That in turn brings new challenges, increased pressure and expectation being an obvious one, but he has clearly shown that he can meet those challenges head on.
Back to form
Sergio Garcia is another man who’ll be reassessing his ambitions for next season on the basis of his performances over the last two weeks. His second successive victory has moved him into the top 20 of the world rankings.
It’s funny how home advantage can make such a difference — Garcia has now won on five occasions on Spanish soil.
His season has been transformed in the last two weeks and it’s interesting to hear Garcia talk about his approach to the game and some of the thought processes he is going through.
I knew that I had game, because I had it before, but obviously, when your head is not in the right spot it doesn’t matter how much game you have, your muscles won’t listen. I’m just happy with my year. We all know how difficult golf is. This is a working process, I’ll keep working on it, and trying hard and enjoying it.
It was a tight finish between Garcia and fellow Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez and it says a lot about Garcia’s renewed self-belief that he was able to put previous runner-up finishes behind him on the 72nd green and hole the crucial winning putt — a part of his game that he been his weakness in recent years.
“I’ve been in that situation three or four times on this course. It wasn’t easy, but I believed in my ability. To be able to hit the chip I hit there and roll the putt in with the pressure, it was nice.”
A nice feeling, and one you feel he’ll have an even greater desire to continue replicating again and again.