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If Rory McIlroy was looking for some perspective as he prepares to play his first competitive round since his US Open collapse, it was waiting for him this morning between the second and sixth holes at The Renaissance Club.

The four-time major champion was introduced there to Scott Stewart, a former junior contemporary of Adam Scott, Nick Dougherty and others. Twelve months ago, Stewart, originally from Machrihanish, was a scratch golfer. Today, he is largely confined to a wheelchair after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease.

Stewart’s positivity in the face of the cruel hand he has been dealt is legitimately remarkable. Speaking to bunkered late last year, he was a picture of quiet defiance as he vowed to fight the condition with every fibre and breath.

“The way I see it, I’m three down with three to play,” he told us. “But I’m not beaten yet and I’m not giving up. I’m taking this fight to the 19th hole and beyond for as long as I possibly can, I promise you that.”

Suffice to say, he left an enormous impression on McIlroy as he prepares to defend his Genesis Scottish Open title.

“There’s not a day goes by that I don’t feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world to get up every morning and be healthy and follow my dream,” he said. “There are videos of me at seven years old saying I want to be the best player in the world and I want to win all the majors.

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“To be able to try to make that little seven-year-old boy proud every day is something I really don’t take for granted. I’m very appreciative of the position I’m in in life.

“It hits you when you meet someone like Scott this morning, absolutely. I try to be as grateful as possible all the time.”

Understandably, perhaps, Pinehurst dominated much of McIlroy’s time with the media today.

He described Sunday’s final round as “a great day until it wasn’t” and admitted the days that followed were “tough”.

After withdrawing from the Travelers Championship, he spent the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday after the US Open strolling around Manhattan, alone with his thoughts – and his Air Pods – in the city that never sleeps.

“It was nice to sort of blend in a little bit,” he added. “I walked the High Line a couple of times. I made a few phone calls. I had some good chats with people close to me, and as you start to think about not just Sunday at Pinehurst but the whole way throughout the weak, there were a couple of things that I noticed that I wanted to work on coming into here, and obviously next week at Troon.

“They were hard but, at the same time, as each day went by, it became easier to focus on the positives and then to think about the future instead of what had just happened.”

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His road to redemption – if that’s not too much of an overstatement – begins this week at the Renaissance Club, the scene of his Genesis Scottish Open victory 12 months ago. On that occasion, he denied Robert MacIntyre what would have been a maiden PGA Tour win and a partisan home crowd a first Scottish winner of the event since Colin Montgomerie won it under its Standard Life Loch Lomond guise in 1999.

A plaque marking the spot from which McIlroy hit his title-winning 2-iron has since been installed on the 18th hole, although even with that, he couldn’t catch a break.

“They spelt my name wrong first time around,” he laughed. Fortunately, that mistake has been fixed and, as he approaches the final major of the year, McIlroy is on a corrective mission of his own.

The ‘resilience’ he spoke of in the wake of his US Open collapse was there for all to see this morning. There was a determined steeliness about him. He appeared visibly hurt by events of last month – quite understandably – but there was a tangible conviction about him, too.

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He claims to have figured out where he went wrong at Pinehurst, revealing that his pre-shot routine had become too long and that he had allowed himself to be too affected by the performance of others, Bryson DeChambeau most notably.

He bluntly dismissed criticism – and critics – of his caddie Harry Diamond and was equally direct in rejecting suggestions he had behaved improperly – impetuously, even – in leaving Pinehurst before DeChambeau’s winning putt had touched the sides of the cup.

Perhaps more revealing was the fact he referenced other disappointments he has endured and his subsequent reaction to them.

“It’s something that’s been a bit of a theme throughout my career,” he noted. “I’ve been able to take those tough moments and turn them into great things not very long after that.”

The 2011 Masters is particularly illustrative and a warning to the rest of the field at Royal Troon next week. On that occasion, after surrendering a four-shot lead heading into the back nine on Sunday at Augusta National as he chased his first major, he went to the US Open two months later and won by eight, setting 11 championship records in the process.

Adversity, quite demonstrably, doesn’t inhibit Rory McIlroy. It fuels him.

“I stewed on what happened at Pinehurst for a couple of days,” he added. “But thankfully, I can go home and look at what I’ve achieved in the game and feel okay about myself.

“It was a great opportunity. It passed me by. But hopefully when I get that next opportunity, it won’t.”

Next stop: Ayrshire.


author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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