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Nine years, eight months and two days.

By the time the Masters gets under way next April, that’s how long will have passed since Rory McIlroy last won a major.

In that time, 35 editions of golf’s marquee events have been played, producing 23 different winners from eight different countries.

Brooks Koepka has won five. Jordan Spieth’s won three. Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa have each helped themselves to a couple. Sergio Garcia finally won his first and only. Danny Willett, Jimmy Walker and Gary Woodland? They’ve all won one, too.

Even Covid-19 claimed a notable scalp, the pandemic forcing the cancellation of the 2020 Open Championship.

Rory McIlroy? Zip. Nada. Nowt.

He’s had his chances. Lord knows he’s had his chances. There have been 20 top tens, including three runner-up finishes, from 34 starts since he won the 2014 PGA.

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He could (perhaps should) have won last month’s US Open, The 150th Open, the 2018 Masters, and others. Instead, chance after chance has come and gone, come and gone, come and gone.

It’s not as though he has forgotten the art of winning nor lost the ability to close. His major drought has been offset by 15 wins on the PGA Tour and seven on the DP World Tour. You could fold in mentions of his three FedEx Cup wins, three Race To Dubai titles and 83 weeks as world No.1 for good measure. But that only serves to make the Irishman’s inability to add to his major pile all the more peculiar.

Yes, major championships are hard to win. Yes, any golf tournament is hard to win. But McIlroy is a generational talent. Not in the same league as peak Tiger, but who is? Notably, he’s not had to face peak Tiger either.

This last decade should have been Rory McIlroy’s decade, yet his prime years have been lean years in the events that matter most. Worse, that’s time he can’t get back. Whatever happens in whatever remains of his career, the period from his mid-twenties to his mid-thirties will summon sighs, not salutes.

As a consequence, McIlroy is approaching the grim intersection where expectation gives way to hope. Where people once assumed it was simply a matter of ‘when’ he would win his next major, the mood is lurching towards ‘if’. Doubt is germinating, even amongst his most loyal supporters. It’s not unreasonable to wonder if it has taken root within him, too.

Judging by what he told reporters afterwards, it hasn’t.

“I’m optimistic about the future, just got to keep plugging away,” he said, adding that he’s not thinking about how long his major drought has been.

“I think about trying to go and win a fourth FedEx Cup in a couple of weeks’ time, go try and win a fifth Race to Dubai, go and win a fifth Ryder Cup. I just keep looking forward.”

His summary of the week said it all.

“Overall, solid performance, not spectacular, but a lot of optimism going into the rest of the year.”


For once, what Rory says and how Rory seems appear to be at odds.

The optimism he speaks of, for example, was nowhere to be seen on Saturday, when he declined all media after carding a two-under 69. Instead, he went to the putting green where the steam puffing from his ears after each miss could have dried out the saturated Hoylake fairways.

Next up in a major sense for Rory is, of course, The Masters. He has the best part of nine months to ruminate on his majorless-ness before trying, for the tenth time, to complete the career grand slam.

The more time ticks away, the less he has of it, the harder his challenge becomes. His options for ‘New Things To Try’ are also becoming limited. In the last decade, he’s changed coaches, caddies, equipment, and more. He’s cut out sugar, chased distance, gorged on books by Og Mandino and Ryan Holiday. He’s spoken to the media and stopped speaking to the media. He’s disappeared down YouTube rabbit holes and searched for Zen.

He has burned through ‘new approaches’ and exhausted himself in the process.

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One thing he hasn’t yet tried – or, at least, doesn’t appear to have tried – is reconnecting with his inner child.

You know him. The freckle-faced lad who spent hours chipping balls into a washing machine with neither a care in the world nor a tour to defend.

Rory knows him, too. In his fascinating ‘Chronicles of a Champion Golfer’ profile, he said this of his early years: “I just looked like a kid that loved golf. I just really had a passion for the game.”

There might be something in that. Passion is what brings out the best in Rory McIlroy. Not philosophy, nor punishing diets, nor power-lifting.

On various occasions of late, he has worn the look of somebody who is merely enduring the game. Where is the love? Blackened, no doubt, by the burden of being Rory McIlroy. Heavy hangs the head, and all that.

All the while, time marches on, inexorably, remorselessly.

It waits for no man, no matter how gifted.

Rory McIlroy? Alas, he just happens to be more gifted than most.

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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