Rory McIlroy Sets Major Career Goals for 2018 and Beyond
When Rory McIlroy earmarked the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship as his final competitive event of the season, the Northern Irishman most likely didn't expect to finish quietly as an also-ran on the ninth hole of the Old Course at St. Andrews. But that’s exactly what happened. As Tyrrell Hatton and Ross Fisher were producing a blistering masterclass across the revered layout, the four-time major champion brought his disappointing competitive year to a subdued close with the determination that he would be the one tasting glory again in 2018.
“I think my last round of 2017 sort of summed up all of 2017,” the 28-year-old said afterwards to Tim Barter of Sky Sports. “Not much happening, good or bad. Just sort of stuck in neutral. Yeah, (it) hasn't been the year I wanted on the golf course.”
On a day when historic records fell, McIlroy’s level-par round of 72 was 11 shots higher than that of the mercurial Englishman, Fisher, who likely caused a few palpations within the esteemed Royal & Ancient as he sought to break 60 on the legendary venue. No such heart flutters were generated by the Ulsterman’s play on Sunday as his campaign fizzled out under the cloudy skies of Fife.
“I started the year with grabbed ambitions trying to add to my major tally and trying to win golf tournaments and get backup near the top of the World Rankings. I obviously have not been able to do that.”
Hampered by a troublesome rib injury that has caused recurring discomfort and inflammation, stalling his progress after his FedEx Cup triumph in 2016, the always diplomatic and well-spoken former Open champion has found his standing in the game undercut by the stunning achievements of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson. Those Americans have taken the mantle – winning five majors since McIlroy’s most recent Grand Slam triumph at Valhalla three years ago.
Comparisons will be made to Rory’s 2013, in which equipment changes and uncertainty resulted in a frustrating run in the biggest events, but his fortunes were turned around that November by winning in Australia. He won both the Open and PGA Championships in 2014. However, this time, facing the first winless year since his maiden full-season as a professional nine years ago, McIlroy believes that similar rejuvenation can occur away from the competitive sphere over the winter months.
“I feel even though I haven't won and the results haven't been what I have wanted, I feel like I can still salvage something from the rest of the year,” he continued. “Even though I'm not playing, I've given myself a lot of opportunity to put a lot of good foundations in place going forward. That's what I'm going to concentrate on from now until the end of the year.
“There's a lot of areas of my game that need sharpening: Wedge play, putting would be the two main areas that I need to get better. I feel like my iron play sort of came on the last few weeks.
“I've been working a little bit on TrakMan, and you know, obviously saw some good signs last week at Close House (when he finished second). I didn't really play that well this week but still, it was nice to feel like I was in the hunt at some stage at the end of the season there. Basically, all areas of my game could get a little bit better.
“But you know, what that's a few weeks away. I won't start hitting balls until the end of November, so really the next few weeks is just in the gym and rehab and getting my body right to be able to go into that practice and be able to start 2018 strongly.”
Building towards the Masters in April is the most pressing objective for McIlroy, as the Green Jacket stands as the sole obstacle between him and the sporting immortality of the Career Grand Slam, following in the footsteps of Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Yet to reach his thirties, it would seem odd to characterise Rory as being a veteran golfer, but that accumulated knowledge and experience of the past decade could prove a vital asset over future seasons.
“I feel like I'm a much better player now than I was in 2010 and 2012 when I was able to win a couple of majors.
“I see no reason why I can't better that in the next ten years and that's why I feel like these three months are very important for me to put some really good things in place and step away and just reassess everything and reassess where I'm at and where I need to be.
“You know, the landscape of the game has changed a bit since I started to win majors. You've got young, hungry guys now that are fearless, basically, and they are playing the game how I basically came out and played a few years ago. It's just about trying to gain an advantage here or there, so just reassessing everything and making sure I'm sort of not leaving any stone unturned and do everything I can to get back to the best player in the world.”
That is the most immediate goal, but for anyone questioning the remaining motivation for a young man who has achieved so much, McIlroy has outlined his ambitions for the years ahead. He wants to overhaul the six majors won by Sir Nick Faldo, and later target the nine secured by the legendary South African, Player, and become the most decorated non-American golfer in history.
It would be fair to say that on the evidence of recent months, it would be a stretch to imagine those accolades being surpassed imminently. But Rory is a hugely commanding and influential figure within the game, remaining a massive draw internationally, and few would dispute that his best isn’t at very least equal – if not beyond – that of his impressive contemporaries.
The next decade is about to begin for the boy from Holywood. And it may even be more storied than the last.
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