23 Feb 2022

Rory McIlroy – Controlling his own destiny

A birdie on the 72nd hole of last month’s Dubai Desert Classic would have handed Rory McIlroy a record-equalling third triumph at the oldest DP World Tour event outside of Europe. Par would have been sufficient to make the play-off, which Viktor Hovland won to move up to third in the Official World Golf Ranking, but disaster struck after McIlroy found the water on the final hole of tournament week.

A bogey six left the Northern Irishman in third spot and another near-miss in a DP World Tour event following his implosion on the back nine at last year’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship. Believe it or not, McIlroy’s last triumph at a sole- sanctioned DP World Tour event came back in 2016 at the Irish Open – an astonishing six years ago, also meaning he has not won a Rolex Series event, which is quite a staggering stat for a player of his calibre.

McIlroy was visibly disappointed after failing to make the play-off at the Dubai Desert Classic

Despite his winless streak on the DP World Tour, McIlroy isn’t losing any sleep just yet as he revealed his biggest goals this year are the ones he is in full control of.

“I want to win five times, I want to win a major; I want to win The Race to Dubai; I want to win the FedEx Cup; I want to do this or that, and of course I want to do all those things,” said McIlroy. “I’d love to win six times in a season. I’ve never done that before. I’ve won five.

“All those things are great goals and they are things to try to work towards. But I think the biggest thing for guys that are at the level that we’re at is I want to hit over 60 percent of my fairways. I want my proximity inside 150 yards to be a certain number. I want my strokes gained putting to be a certain number. I think having goals that are more objective and I’m in control of them – I can’t control if I win five or six times a year. There’s so many other variables in there. “But I can certainly control if I hit 60 percent of the fairways. I can control if my numbers, my strokes gained numbers, my stats are better than they were the year before. It’s about trying to set yourself goals that you can control, and that are objective and measurable, and I guess those are the sort of goals I’ve started to set myself the last few years.”

And is there a certain priority in those goals for this season?

“There’s a few,” he said. “I’d love to get my iron play back to a level that it was at maybe a few years ago. Gaining at least half a shot to a full shot on the field with approach play. I’ve done that before, I feel like I can do that again. “I think fairways hit stats is always a big one for me. If I can hit the ball in the fairway 60 percent of the time with how far that I hit it, I’m going to create a lot of opportunities for myself, and the more opportunities you give yourself, you know, the putts will fall some weeks, some weeks they won’t but I think over the last few years I’ve certainly become a more consistent putter and I certainly hole what I feel is my fair share.”

McIlroy struggled off the tee last year after trying to emulate Bryson DeChambeau

The goals McIlroy has set out seem a lot more achievable than those he had last Spring when he tried to emulate the big-hitting Bryson DeChambeau, only to struggle with inconsistently off the tee which saw him saw him drop out of the top 15 in the OWGR for the first time since 2009.

“No, I don’t need to,” replied the Ulsterman when asked if gaining a few extra yards was no longer part of his plans. “Again, that goal of hitting more fairways, it evens maybe throttling back and hitting 3-wood a little more often or hitting clubs that are maybe not as aggressive off tees and just putting yourself in the fairway. Maybe just being a little bit more of a measured and a controlled golfer. I’ll certainly pick-and-choose my spots where I can take advantage of the driver and hit it, but the best player of the last 30 years, Tiger, he picked and chose where he hit driver, and he played a very, very controlled game. It didn’t work out too badly for him. “I’m not saying that my game compares to his in any way, but there are certainly aspects of what he did so well in the past that I would obviously love to put into my game.”

Ryder Cup

McIlroy was the first to admit he was woefully out of form at last year’s Ryder Cup after breaking down in front of the TV cameras reflecting on his disappointing performance at Whistling Straits. He had suffered heavy defeats in his three matches on the opening two days with each lasting no longer than 15 holes, while he was also left out of the Saturday morning foursomes, the first session he has missed in his Ryder Cup career. A final day triumph over Xander Schauffele still left the Europeans on the wrong end of a record-breaking defeat, but McIlroy believes the continent has nothing to worry about going forward.

“I think the one disappointment for every European golf fan was The Ryder Cup last year, but I think European golf has never been healthier and the alliance with the PGA Tour has been massive,” he said “The tournaments are getting bigger, sponsorship money is coming in to support events and players are wanting to come back and play. I think it’s in a really good spot. “It’s not just about the one individual in a Ryder Cup. There’s a lot that goes into it and good captains lose sometimes, and that’s just the way it is. Pádraig was a great captain last time, and I didn’t play my part, and I’m sure the other players feel the same way.”

Despite the qualification process for the Ryder Cup not starting until September the European team have traditionally announced their Captain the week of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. With no announcement just yet, is it something that bothers the players? Not in McIlroy’s book.

“I don’t think it matters,” he said. “It’s certainly not on the players radar at all. I don’t think it matters, really. It’s not as if we’re going up and down the range talking to each other thinking about who the captain is going to be. We are all focussed on our own job of trying to play the best golf we can. I wouldn’t want to name any potential candidate because I wouldn’t want influence it one way or another. There are a number of players and they would all do a wonderful job.”

Luke Donald and Henrik Stenson are seemingly leading the way to lead the team out at Rome 2023, but could there be a surprise with McIlroy himself at the helm in the Eternal City? “I hope it’s a long way away!” he chuckles. “But ultimately, yeah, I’d love to have a shot at it. We’re hopefully talking two decades or more!”

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