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Rory McIlroy steps out of his own long shadow with Vegas victory

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FOR some absurd, inexplicable reason, I hadn’t been to the dentist since Rory McIlroy won the last of his four majors in 2014.

Thank goodness then that the sheer eye-watering agony of my wisdom teeth finally forced me to reacquaint myself with the delights of an exploratory guddle around my oral cavity which, for the poor dentist involved, must have been a bit like peering into the dank, grisly recesses of Sawney Bean’s cave.

Given that some of my higgledy-piggledy gnashers bear more than a passing resemblance to the crumbling ramparts of a ruined 13th century castle, it’s possibly not a dental expert I require but protection from the National Trust.

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Anyway, you’ll not be interested in the slightest to know that the pain has subsided and we’re all smiles again. And by smiles, I mean an Albert Steptoe-style grimace.

As for the aforementioned McIlroy? Well, after winning the 20th PGA Tour title of his career in the CJ Cup, and becoming just the seventh player to reach that milestone before the age of 33, the Northern Irishman’s beam sparkled like the Las Vegas Strip.

In the city where fortunes can change in a birl of roulette, McIlroy turned his own golfing fortunes around with a display of authority and aplomb. Just a few weeks ago he was delivering a tearful assessment of his Ryder Cup failings as Team Europe slumped to a record-crushing defeat. On Sunday night, he looked like a golfer reborn.

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Of course, when it comes to affairs surrounding Rory – or indeed any successful sportsman or woman in the upper echelons – there’s never much middle ground is there? In the hysterical world that we inhabit, we are either bellowing in raptures from the rooftops that he is the greatest thing known to man or cowering in the foetal position and sobbing that the end is nigh.

When you have achieved great feats, as McIlroy has, any dip in form is going to be magnified. Amid relentless scrutiny and judgements, he is certainly not going to be afforded the luxury of being able to quietly muddle on in the anonymous margins.

 McIlroy’s largely dismal Ryder Cup saw him pick up just one point, his lowest ever tally in six appearances in the biennial tussle. On Sunday night, he made a telling point. “The Ryder Cup was huge,” reflected McIlroy of a Ryder Cup which at least led to him redeeming himself with a morale-boosting singles win over Xander Schauffele. “On the Saturday night of that match, I was done with golf. I didn’t want to see golf again until 2022. But after I won my singles on the Sunday I thought: ‘Go to Vegas and try to build on this little bit of a breakthrough’. There was a lot of reflection in the couple of weeks since then. This is what I need to do. I need to play golf, simplify it and just be me. I think for the last few months I was trying to be someone else to try to get better but realised that being me is enough and, being me, I can do things like this.”

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That “someone else” was no doubt a reference to Bryson DeChambeau. Back in March, McIlroy made an admission that raised more eyebrows than a Hollywood cosmetic surgeon when he stated that big-hitting Bryson’s demolition job at the 2020 US Open had fuelled his desire to add more swing speed and distance to his own game.

The pursuit of that power did have an impact on one of golf’s great natural rhythms, though. The majestic McIlroy swing was often like watching the enchanting motions of Torvill and Dean’s Bolero. At times this year, however, it’s been more like the Keystone Cops attempting the Dashing White Sergeant.

On Sunday, he looked like his old, self-confident self. Yes, The Summit venue was something of a generous, wide-open birdie-buffet of a course far removed from the major championship examinations but he still conjured a timely performance of poise, purpose and polish.

Most folk say it, but when Rory has all the cogs, pistons and pulleys working in unison, there’s no finer spectacle. Golf is a better place when he’s involved at the sharp end.

Everybody is searching for something in this inherently imperfect game of fine margins and humbling, unpredictable fortunes. Whether you’re Cammy down at the local club looking for a few more yards or one of the world’s best seeking that extra little edge, the quest for improvement in a pursuit you’ll never truly master is endless. Sometimes, though, what you have, and what got you to where you are, is enough.

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Over four days in Vegas, McIlroy went back to being the golfer he is instead of trying to be the golfer he thought he needed to be. The result was a resounding success.

AND ANOTHER THING

The tributes to dear Renton Laidlaw since his passing last week have been bountiful, heart-felt and thoroughly justified. Having also said farewell to the cherished doyen, Jock MacVicar, earlier this year, 2021 has not been kind to our media grandees. 

Golf was enriched by Renton’s enduring presence and those fortunate to have known him will always cherish his warmth, charm and generosity.

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