Drama follows Rory McIlroy around. It is why Nike pay him $20m a year, why Tiger Woods is desperate to have him tee up this week at his World Challenge event in California, why his work, good or bad, on or off the course, makes headlines.
His first win of the year required a birdie at the 72nd hole and a bogey from his rival in the final group. And not just any rival. McIlroy was chasing down Australia’s finest in Sydney. Masters champion Adam Scott, who had already collected the Australian Masters and PGA titles in successive weeks last month, held a one shot lead going down the last to win the Australian Open and complete the domestic grand slam.
It was his misfortune to run into McIlroy on a day the stars lined up behind him. With only one tournament to come, and that an elite, 18-man knockabout with Woods, the Australian Open represented the last opportunity for McIlroy to put an awful year behind him with an authentic victory. To reel in Scott, who began the final day in Sydney four strokes ahead, was some way to end a drought stretching back 13 months.
McIlroy required Scott to spurn glorious eagle and birdie opportunities at the 16th and 17th when he was out of position. But that’s golf. You can only play your own ball and a final round 66 is worthy of victory anywhere. “It wasn’t awkward at all,” McIlroy said of the final handshake. “Adam congratulated me on the last green. He said I deserved it. It’s hard not to feel some sort of guilt in the way I won it. But I always believed I could win. I came here playing really well after a couple of really solid performances in China, Dubai and Korea.
“The pleasing thing about my golf, even all year, is any time I’ve got into contention and had a chance to win a tournament, I’ve always played well. I’ve always played the best golf of the week. That’s pleasing, to play your best golf when you’re under pressure. You couldn’t ask for any more than that.”
That’s the euphoria talking. There were times this year when McIlroy was in utter despair with his game. The balm applied by a better couple of months and now this victory makes perspective easier to come by. “It’s frustrating because you know the level of golf that you can play, and you’re just not able to play to that level. You’re working hard and you’re trying to find the reasons why. You think you’ve found the reasons and then you haven’t. You try something else. It’s frustrating but I never lost belief. I never lost any of that.”
It helped that Scott began with a bogey and after just eight holes McIlroy had erased the deficit. “I’m in a better place mentally with some things off the course, I definitely felt better with how my swing was, I just felt everything was coming together the way I wanted it to. It’s been a frustrating year but I’ve worked hard. It’s been a process, trying to get back to winning golf tournaments again. It was nice to be able to do it today.
“You know, golf’s a long career. I’m 24 years old and I get a little impatient at times. If I actually took a step back and looked at the bigger picture, it hasn’t been too bad a year. It’s obviously been made a lot better with the win. It’s not like I plummeted off the face of the earth. I’m still No 6 in the world. It’s not the level I feel I can play to, but I feel I’m getting back there.”