06 Dec 2022

David Howell: Rory has never been more determined to sit atop the golfing world

Oh my, what a year 2022 has been for professional golf, LIV Golf, the World Ranking, law suits, business decisions, friendships tested, loyalties shown, or not as the case may be. President Putin mentioned in a golf press conference, thats surely a first, Scottie Scheffler, growing the game, shot gun starts, The Open, Tom Kim, the two Cams, Smith and Young, Matty Fitz, big strong Jon Rahm and Rory, sat at the top of the pile, after everything that has gone before, is Rory.

One thing is for certain, to my eyes Rory has never been more determined to sit atop the golfing world and prove that he is the dominant player. He may or may not be able to achieve this over the next few seasons, but as his life has progressed I get the feeling he has doubled down on trying to etch his name into the pantheon of the greats that have come before.

Of course he can only do this with Major Championship victories, but FedExCup and DP World Tour Championships and the World Number One spot at year end feels like a giant springboard to supercharge the next five years of his career. His game has never been better, he’s never been fi tter, I get the feeling as he ages that there is an urgency towards his career that maybe drifted for a couple of years as life outside the ropes rightly took shape.

Seeing Tiger, his now great friend with his best years and health sadly now behind him, has I think reminded Rory that time waits for no man, however many Major Championships he is going to end up with is all about now, the next five years, 20 majors to be fought and battled for, won and lost. I sense an almost old fashioned world view coming from Rory, with his fortune already made, his focus is Majors, his legacy, his final resting place in the list of the greats, thats driving him on and I sense it’s a powerful force.

Of course the next Major title is the all important one, it will be the hardest one for him to win, but once he does, and the damn bursts then watch out. One man more than any other standing in his way could be Jon Rahm, after a more subdued season, taking somewhat of a backseat throughout the off course dramas that were thrust upon us this year, it feels like Jon has a point to prove. A fantastic end to his season with wins in Madrid and Dubai sends Jon into rest mode with a pep in his step. He looks like a man with an axe to grind, I sense a rivalry with Rory is forming, much like Seve and Faldo vied for top billing in their contrasting ways.

Thorn in McIlroy’s side

Pure rivalries are great things for sport, there is nothing better, Jon seems to have that spirit deep within him, he could prove to be a thorn in Mcilroy’s side. As the Masters comes around and the LIVS and the LIV nots congregate once more down Magnolia lane, all vying to don the green jacket, it is going to be electrifying to watch. Some spice has been added to the mix, how it will taste we have yet to see, but in April we might just see the new dawn, old world versus new, some might find it easier to win Major now they are rich beyond their dreams, some might be burdened by the magnitude of what victory means for their legacy, but one thing is for certain, its gong to be one heck of a start to the Major season.

Of course by April the World Ranking changes will have started to take effect, some will miss out on playing The Masters due to choosing a monster pay day and a new work life balance that they decided was important, so don’t sympathise too much on their behalf, and others will miss out, some will gain entry because of the changes to the ranking system itself. My take on the new system? It’s worse than the old system, it seems to be saying that beating 50 players ranked 50th to 100th in the world is harder that beating 5 of the top ten players in the world, I think if you asked any tour pro they would disagree with this sentiment.

Also I dislike the fact that the new system discourages top players from playing in smaller events with weaker fields, something the old system protected against to some degree, my gut feeling is the changes have been negative, hence some changes might be needed in time. And finally how will the golfing landscape continue to evolve over the coming years, will we see a coming together of LIV Golf and the PGA Tour?

Quite frankly, in the near future I cant see it happening, simply put, right now there has never been a better time to be a professional golfer, with options galore and money aplenty, but sadly perhaps perversely, never a worse time to be a golf fan, thats a very sad thing to say, but diluted fields on every tour was not what was needed, it will change in time, compromise will most likely eventually come but that time is not yet I fancy, the lines in the sand have only just been drawn, the battle for domination will continue on for a while yet.

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