When we judge the best golfers of all time, we tend to make those conclusions based on the player’s record in the four major championships – specifically, the amount of wins, or lack thereof. We all know that Jack has 18 and Tiger has 15. Arnie has 7 and Seve has 5. Rory McIlroy has four.
Four majors on a hall-of-fame-caliber resume. Impressive to say the least, but the last time Rory lifted the hardware at a major was nearly 10 years ago when he hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy at Valhalla after outlasting Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson in near darkness.
Pundits at the time predicted huge things for the young, prodigious lad from Holywood, Northern Ireland. Majors galore! After all, Rory was making it look easy.
Actually, he was making it look Tiger-esque.
He blew away the field at Congressional in 2011 by eight (not a typo) shots and did so again at the 2012 PGA Championship on Kiawah Island.
A club manufacturer change led to underwhelming and often frustrating results in 2013. But Rory bounced back in 2014 full force, knocking off the Open Championship at Hoylake and two weeks later, his second PGA Championship.
And that is where the major haul stands to this day for Rory. Four. So, why hasn’t he been able to recapture that 2014 magic and ascend the major hierarchy like so many golf critics predicted?
In a phrase: golf is hard. Mental scar tissue builds with each frustratingly close call. Putters go cold. Your short game abandons you. There is a myriad of reasons why one of the greatest golfers of all time just cannot seem to have all cylinders clicking on that one special week.
Not only that, but the sport is at a place where golf instruction, fitness and nutrition, statistics and launch monitors, and even mental assessments are all utilized to a degree we have never seen before. This means that more young players are entering the pro ranks ready to win immediately.
Next, let’s clear something up regarding Rory’s record in the majors. Out of 57 events played, he has only missed the cut in 11 of those. And of the 46 cuts he’s made, he’s finished in the Top-25 on 36 occasions. Besides the four wins, he also has 16 Top-5s – a major track record anyone would covet.
Rory is now 34 years old. Although it feels like it was just yesterday, Rory is no longer one of the “young guns” on TOUR. He is up against a charging crowd of highly motivated and fearless young players who may not even have memories of Rory’s last major in 2014. Does that mean he’s done?
Rory McIlroy trending up for 2023 major season.
In a lot of professional sports, 34 is old. But in golf, many players are just hitting their stride and playing the best golf of their lives. In fact, Padraig Harrington won all three of his majors after the age of 35, as did Nick Price. Know who else did, too? Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson. Jack Nicklaus won 6 (!) majors after 35.
McIlroy could, in fact, just be getting started in terms of major championship trophies. Although his 2023 season has not lived up to expectations, Rory put together a great week at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill, finishing T-7 (-2) behind winner Brooks Koepka, even without his A, B, or arguably C games.
And that is where the greatest argument for a Rory resurgence comes from.
Unlike what we may have seen from a younger Rory, this time an older, wiser McIlroy grinded through clunky drives, inaccurate wedges, and a Saturday rainstorm that produced one of the more notable Saturdays in PGA Championship memory, to put himself firmly in the competition going into the final round.
Want more reason for optimism? The next two PGA Championships are at courses Rory has already won on – Valhalla and Quail Hollow. And this year’s Open Championship will be contested on the Royal Liverpool Golf Club’s historic links, site of Rory’s 2014 Open Championship win.
Winning a professional golf tournament, no less a major championship, is extremely difficult for even the best players. Wins don’t come that often, and when they do, they need to be celebrated and appreciated. You wonder if Rory did that after his 2014 PGA Championship, or if he figured there would be plenty of time to reflect after he was done collecting them?
Well, if you’re Rory McIlroy, there is every reason to believe you were correct – there will be plenty of time to celebrate and appreciate as this pundit is predicting more major trophies to come.