Rory McIlroy: Master of All He Surveys

Justin Rose had a great week at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai. He shot 68, 68, 69, 62 for the four days. The 62 on the last day was 10-under and set a new course record by two shots.

And he lost.

He lost by two strokes to World No. 1, Rory McIlroy, who shot 66, 67, 66, 66. 

Everything about this was impressive: the consistency of the scores, the fact that he was sick all week long with self-diagnosed sunstroke and the fact that he made five consecutive birdies on the last five holes to win while gaining speed. And it was Rose who provided the motivation:

Yeah, I think when I saw Justin, I had just made birdie on 11 to get to 19‑under, and when I walked up to the 12th green, I saw Justin had went to 20.  So he had obviously eagled 14 and birdied 15.

So I knew I needed to find a few birdies on the way in, but I thought with the two par 5s and the short par 4, 15th that I had some chances coming in.

I just tried to stay patient and I guess as I said, when you have a target like that, I find that the best way to approach final rounds like this.  My target was 22 going out today.  I wanted to get to 22-under.  I thought that that would be enough.  Thankfully I got to 23 and gave myself a bit of a cushion.

That’s the way I sort of approach these final rounds when it’s quite close like this, giving myself a target that I think if I get to and it comes up short, then fair enough.  Other guys just played better.  But usually it works out in your favor.

It’s hard to believe that you started that round with a bogey, but a victory of that nature resonates beyond The European Tour; already in America, they are Tweeting like bonkers.  So it does kind of send a message, doesn’t it, about not only this event, but the nature of the win and what it means for the world No. 1 to come back and dominate.

Yeah, I mean, it means a lot to me to win in this fashion, as well.

I guess in a way, Justin gave me the opportunity to do what I did.  I guess seeing a target there and shooting at something, it definitely makes you more focused.

But yeah, I mean, this is a great tournament.  The European Tour is still very strong.  We have got some of the best players in the world that play on this tour.  I think it was a great way to end the 2012 European Tour season.

So yeah, I mean, I’m obviously over the moon and I’m sure a lot of the guys are.  Just looking down the list of their seasons:  Like Branden Grace winning four times, it’s a great story, coming from Q‑School last year; Justin playing so well and getting himself into the Top 5 in the world; Luke having another great year.

There’s so many strong players on this tour, and there will continue to be strong players and there will be strong players coming through.

He was asked what targets he has for 2013 and there was some bad news in there for his fellow competitors; he wants to get better:

I guess the same.  To be focused on the majors, try to win more of those.  I’ve won one in 11, one in 12, it would be nice to keep that run going next year.

As I’ve said the last few weeks, just try to keep improving as a player.  I feel like I can improve in different areas of the game still.  That’s the — I guess that’s the challenge and the fun of practice is trying to get better all the time.

You’ve not only shown your talent this season but you seemed to have proven that even when not at your best, in second or third gear, you can contend.  What gear aside from the last five holes or back nine today do you feel you’ve been in in Dubai, and do you agree with that statement that even when you’re not at your best, you seem to be up there on leaderboards?

Yeah, I guess that’s been the big difference this year is when I’m not playing my best, I’m still able to compete and able to I guess win tournaments.

That’s something I said earlier in the year that I wanted to try and get better at.  I felt my previous wins before this year, I’ve just played great golf and no one could really get near me in any way.

But being able to win not with your best game is I guess what Tiger has done for so many years.  That’s why he’s won so many tournaments, and I feel like I’m definitely not at that level quite yet but I’m learning how to do it.

I suppose you could call that “winning while human.” It’s very interesting that while coming up with dominating performances in two majors where he won by 8 strokes which would at least have to be labeled “extraordinary” (the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship), he still sees an opportunity to get better. Not by winning by even bigger gaps — he’s made the point with 8 shots — but by winning by one when he doesn’t quite have it all together.

In a way, that requires more courage than by winning in a walk. When you know that you’re on, you are confident and it’s easy to lean into the finish line going away.

But when the outcome is in doubt right down to the last hole, it requires a sense of confidence that you’re going to win anyway. It requires that you remain patient and let others come back to you; you don’t always have to be gaining on someone to have them beat themselves. And you have to trust in yourself that you will find a way to win: you may be missing greens but your short game is so good that you know you will almost always be able to make a “commercial” up and down.

“Only” 33rd in Scrambling (making par or better after missing a green) this may be one area where he sees room for improvement. On the other hand, he doesn’t get a lot of opportunities: he’s 18th in Greens in Regulation.

But perhaps the most challenging of his off-season improvement exercises will be that of learning to play with a whole new set of clubs, his new sponsor’s, Nike. There have been all manor of difficult efforts to change equipment in its entirety. Nick Faldo has already called it “dangerous.” The late Payne Stewart went from Wilson to Spaulding and lost a year sorting things out.

But Rory doesn’t expect a problem. Tiger Woods went from Mizuno to Titleist to Nike over the course of his career to no ill effect.

So Tiger proved that it was possible. Rory managing it deftly will prove what we already suspect about him, that he’s clearly in Tiger’s league. And with more of this kind of year, perhaps even better.

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