Now McIlroy must drive on

Rory McIlroy’s victory in the Honda Classic on Sunday will be recorded in the history books as the day he was officially crowned the world’s No 1 golfer.

But for me that is only half the story. Success in Florida also marked the day when I first recognised the full transformation of Rory McIlroy, from the most talented to the most complete golfer on the planet.

His coronation may have grabbed all the headlines but it is his performance that has his peers worried.

Sunday would have been a difficult day for McIlroy given his expressed desire to top the rankings and for the second week in a row he had the opportunity to realise that dream. In trying conditions on a difficult golf course the 22-year-old also had to withstand an exceptional charge from Tiger Woods which would have rattled most of the game’s exponents.

Yet Sunday emphatically demonstrated a new and more complete McIlroy, one capable of chiselling out results through hard graft.

Ten months ago at Augusta, we worried about the far reaching consequences of his implosion in the final round. Those fears have now been put to bed. He has proven himself a good student who has learned from his mistakes while also seeking advice from legends like the great Jack Nicklaus and Dave Stockton (his putting coach), both of whom are Major champions.

His victory by eight shots in last year’s US Open demonstrated his pedigree but since then he has worked diligently to improve not only his game but also his chances of performing consistently each time he steps onto a golf course.

Sunday at the Honda Classic was significant because it also highlighted the performances of two other golfing greats, Woods and Lee Westwood, both of whom are very much at the crossroads of their respective careers.

For Woods, Sunday was a day of resurrection, not just because he shot a round of 62, but also because it marked the day he delivered a final round worthy of mention in front of his hometown fans. Technically, he is also beginning to ‘groove’ his long game (he is no longer aiming too far left) but, of even greater importance, Sunday would have re-affirmed that he has the mental strength and putting ability to win again.

It is also obvious that the quality of his recent performances have also re-connected him with the golfing public in America, who will now view him as the main American rival to McIlroy.

Say what you want about Tiger’s off-course antics but his re-emergence as a serious contender can only be good for the game.

For Westwood, he once again demonstrated that he will be a serious contender in the 2012 Majors. But the question still remains whether he can actually win one. His loss to McIlroy in the World Match Play would have hurt hugely, moreso as the short game flaws which have hampered his game throughout his career again resurfaced. Deep down he knows that he cannot carry these limitations into the heat of battle, especially when his two greatest rivals are showing such ominous form.

Winning golf is a matter of fine margins. At the highest levels victories have to be earned and more often than not it is those individuals who are most willing to accept and embrace the challenges of competition who prevail. For many, those hurdles prove too difficult to overcome. However, for the special few, they merely act as stepping stones in their progression to further greatness.

McIlroy this week achieved another milestone in his blossoming career. His challenge now must be to keep going, to set even higher standards of excellence and in the process hopefully add to his Major haul. That challenge will prove difficult but Rory is no ordinary warrior. Behind that cheesy grin and his mop of curly hair is a talent every bit as exciting as some of the game’s greatest exponents.

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