When Rory McIlroy teed off on day one of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship last year in Arizona, he was number one in the world. A lot has happened in the past 12 months however, and McIlroy is beginning this year’s tournament with an entirely different perspective, writes Eoin Lyons.
After missing the cut in Abu Dhabi (the previous tournament), Rory lost his first round match in the 2013 Match Play Championship to a simply superior player on the day, Shane Lowry. With this loss, the Northern Irishman began a steady decline in form which saw him drop from the throne at the top of the world rankings. This drop in form, coupled with drama off the course, culminated in a largely disappointing 2013 for McIlroy. Legal battles over his commercial activities understandably drew Rory’s concentration away from the course, and the attention he received from the media followed suit. Critics were quick to match his troubles to his less than top quality performances throughout the year, and McIlroys confidence and resilience evidently took a knock.
His decline away from the top of the game, and the eventual drop out from the media spotlight soon became a blessing in disguise however, for the Nothern Irish starlet. As Rory’s legal battles came to an end, and as the pressure from the media eased, the end of 2013 saw a slight resurgence in his form. While it was his only win of the entire year, McIlroy finished the year with victory in the Australian Open in December. The timing of this win may seem moot to most critics, however the change in mentality caused by this satisfying end to the year has evidently had a positive effect on Rory. Ending the year on a high allowed McIlroy to bring some positivity into 2014, which has resulted in him finishing within the top 10 of the Dubai Desert Classic, and finishing second in Abu Dhabi, narrowly due to an unfortunate two-shot penalty caused by an improper drop in the third round.
Although McIlory’s rating is much lower than this time last year, currently standing at 7th as opposed to 1st at the beginning of 2013, there is no denying that his form is remarkably better. Rory has openly attributed stability off the course to be the key to his change in fortunes as of late, marking a much more positive mentality in the outlook of the Northern Irishman.
“Compared to this time last year, it’s so different. I don’t have to go through any changes in equipment; I don’t have to answer the questions.”
“I haven’t hit the ball as well for a long time. It’s been a good start to the season. I have two events under my belt (in Abu Dhabi and Dubai) and had a chance to win both of them.”
Rory McIlroy is now openly even more confident about his game than he was when he was ranked number 1 in the world. This does not mean that he believes he is the best in the world again, but it does however, mean that McIlroy is being much more realistic about his game and gaining much more positivity from approaching each of his tournaments with a clear head.
His first game in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship comes against the American Boo Weekly, and a win would see a second round matchup against his Ryder Cup compatriot, Lee Westwood. McIlroy however, has claimed that he is approaching this tournament one game at a time, and refuses to look ahead in the draw prematurely. The very nature of the matchplay tournaments are unforgiving, with players being knocked out in the first round each year despite decent performances. This style of tournament will be perfectly suited to testing the true strength in McIlroy’s resurgence. If he is to truly cement his place in the top rankings in the world, Rory will have to impress in each and every match-up in this tournament, right until the very end. Due to the big names such as Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson missing from the draw, Rory is rated as the 14/1 favourite for the tournament. If he keeps his head clear as expected, McIlroy may be a great bet for anyone wishing to add some excitement to the tournament.
As the famous quote goes, “It is not how a man deals with his success that is important; it is how he deals with his failures.”
If Rory is to return to the top of the game, he will have to learn from 2013 and take the positives into this year of golf. The signs are already there that he has a new and improved mentality, and an impressive year for the 24 year old is certainly not out of the question.
Pundit Arena, Eoin Lyons.