If one hole, Rory McIlroy’s second last of 2015, served as a metaphor for the Northern Irishman’s yo-yo season, the subsequent raising aloft of two trophies allowed him to begin an eight-week holiday in celebration.
Part of McIlroy’s allure has always been a blunt refusal – or basic inability – to flatline, even mid-tournament, a scenario which shows no sign of changing. It is that ultimate tendency to win, though, which will define him through the years.
McIlroy looked to have landed knockout blows on the terrific Andy Sullivan when taking to the 17th tee in the closing round of the DP World Tour Championship. He led by two. What followed barely seemed feasible, McIlroy trapping a horrible six-iron right and into the water hazard. He had half the Emirate state as dry land to his left.
Later McIlroy credited his caddie, JP Fitzgerald, with crucial words of encouragement as the riled golfer headed for a drop zone to play shot three. McIlroy flicked the ball to within 30ft of the hole before holing the putt to retain a one-shot advantage which would not be conceded.
“It’s probably the longest putt I’ve ever made for a bogey,” said a beaming McIlroy. “I don’t think there’s been one that’s ever came at a better time, so that was definitely the best bogey of my career.
“The tee shot was 40 yards off line. It was just a horrendous golf shot. I didn’t like the shot and I wasn’t very happy with myself but I was able to get over it quick enough to hole that putt. It seems like the more pressure I’m under or the more it means, the better I putt, which is a nice thing to have.”
That is an attribute claimed by the genuine greats of this sport. And to think, it used to be said that McIlroy could not prevail in a scrap. The 26-year-old had bemoaned woes on the greens in the latter part of this season but when it counted most a moment of magic arrived. McIlroy is the Race to Dubai champion for a third time in four years and the winner of this event after a gap stretching back to 2012.
But would the order of merit crown have been consolation for falling short in the final tournament? “Not within the next 48 hours,” McIlroy said. “I always try to draw a line in the sand at some point. I really feel, even though I’ve had a few weeks off over the summer, I need this period just to reflect on things and re-evaluate how I want to go forward. I’m happy that this was my last event of the year and I’ve done really well. I’ve ended the season on a high and I’m happy to put the clubs away for a while.”
As he does that, and banks a cheque for £2.1m, the rest of us can look forward to a 2016 featuring a fully fit and firing McIlroy going head to head with Jordan Spieth. With Jason Day another part of the equation, the top three-ranked players in the world have separated themselves from the rest by quite a margin.
It would be remiss to ignore Sullivan’s contribution to day four here. He slugged at McIlroy without giving an inch until the 12th, when an earlier three-stroke lead for the Englishman was finally nullified. McIlroy looked to have pressed home his superiority with further birdies on the 14th and 15th but even the glimpse of light offered to Sullivan and the sharp way it was withdrawn could not remove the smile from this 29-year-old’s face.
Sullivan should and could now aim for a Ryder Cup berth. He has the attributes and attitude to make quite an impact there, as McIlroy acknowledged.
“For me, it doesn’t really get any better than that,” said Sullivan. “Maybe one shot better and maybe take him to a play-off but it was an awesome day. I think I can hold my own now, it’s safe to say. For me just trying to do it on a more regular basis.
“I gave it everything on that front nine. I just couldn’t quite get the putts to drop on the back nine, I didn’t really hit it close enough again. Just to come up head to head with someone of Rory’s quality, it was absolutely awesome and something that will stick with me for a long time.
“I actually turned to my caddie on 17 and said: ‘I expect him to hole this.’ That’s just the quality he is and the world-class performer he is.” Never a truer golfing phrase has been uttered. McIlroy is entitled to enjoy his break.
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