At times yesterday at the K Club, you might have got the impression Rory McIlroy was annoyed by what the weather was doing to his tournament, but the on-off nature of this Irish Open only added to the drama on a day McIlroy struggled for so long to find the killer punch that would secure him his first title.
For so long now, we have known all about his shot-making ability and his inconsistent short game. And true to script, they were there for everyone to see all day, a palpably frustrated McIlroy missing opportunity after opportunity.
Indeed, such was his striking dominance, Rory should have been out of sight long before Russell Knox holed his birdie putt on the 68th hole to take a one-shot lead. In that moment, you feared the worst for a frustrated McIlroy, who looked anything but one of the game’s most dominant players.
With three holes to play McIlroy would have known he could count on his power and experience but given all that had gone on earlier in the day, the loss of the lead must have felt like the slow and agonising realisation of his greatest nightmare.
But rather than buckle under the immense pressure, McIlroy gave us a wonderful insight into the brilliance of a winning mind, in the manner he dug himself out of a hole to win his first Irish Open championship. It suggests that perhaps, we have misjudged the great man.
A birdie, par, eagle finish is the stuff of strong stomach. This coronation climax has been seen before but never perhaps when victory is at stake and the title mattered as much as this one does to McIlroy.
In fact I can confidently say that his second shot into No 16 was one of the greatest shots I have had the good fortune to witness — the defining moment of the tournament, a moment when he was going to give himself the opportunity to win or lose the tournament.
McIlroy from 271 yards. https://t.co/9uEqWgUuK9— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) May 22, 2016
No one should underestimate the level of difficulty required to hit this perfect shot or the fact that McIlroy had to spend an inordinate amount of time waiting to play, but that shot defined McIlroy’s elite status in world golf, proving once again that in the most exacting psychological environment, McIlroy has the capacity to produce. And then some.
In time, McIlroy’s greatness will be defined by his major championship haul, but it was wonderful to see the emotion on his face once he got the job done yesterday. This tournament mattered, and now that he has won an Irish Open title, one can only hope that it acts as a catalyst for the rest of his season and more especially, for the next 10 weeks during which he competes in the season’s other three major championships.
At this point in time, no one can argue with McIlroy’s focus, his work ethic or the dedication he has to being the best golfer he can be. Physically powerful, the mental strength he demonstrated over the past four days sets him apart from the wannabes on the professional circuit who are not prepared to look hard enough at themselves in the mirror.
Yesterday, McIlroy was brave and bold enough to determine his own destiny. Facing into the headlights, when the heat was on, he believed in what he was doing. Perfect mechanics aside and despite the enormity of the occasion, he had the mental clarity to pull the trigger when it mattered most.
It is for this reason that Ireland’s latest champion is one of the world’s greatest golfers and the most marketable performer in the game.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved