How Rory McIlroy went from heartache to redemption in one week

Brian Murphy
Northern Ireland's Rory Mcilroy celebrates winning the BMW PGA Championship at the Wentworth Club, Virginia Water, Sunday May 25, 2014. (AP Photo/ PA, Adam Davy)
Northern Ireland's Rory Mcilroy celebrates winning the BMW PGA Championship at the Wentworth Club, Virginia Water, Sunday May 25, 2014. (AP Photo/ PA, Adam Davy)

Lord, have mercy. The golf gods have awakened.

After a springtime of Brendon Todds and Matt Joneses and Steven Bowditches as our winners, plus the attendant head-scratching, the golf world decided to throw a big old kegger this weekend.

Adam Scott, the new No. 1 in the world, won the PGA Tour Colonial!

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Colin Montgomerie won for the first time on U.S. soil, in a Champions Tour event, a major no less!

And then there was Rory.

Upstaging them all, McIlroy won the prestigious BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour, taking the cake on the best day of golf in 2014.

My goodness. Rory McIlroy, 25 years old, the kid out of County Down, Northern Ireland, the Ulsterman with the Nike swoosh, with the Nike bankroll, with the two major championships, with the career gone sideways, with the globally famous engagement to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, then with the suddenly globally famous breakup with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.

What to make of young Rors, confused, addled, without a win in Europe or the U.S. in nearly two years?

Many of us have speculated that young love, and all its accoutrements, was the culprit in derailing the most promising golf career in the post-Tiger era. Since winning the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, McIlroy went from being golf's next icon to golf's next object of ridicule; another wannabe Tiger faltering in the spotlight, unable to handle the klieg lights Tiger so capably mastered.

Could it be as simple as that? That Rory McIlroy, the most gifted player in a decade, was felled by Cupid's arrow? Or was it the Nike money, and the pressure? How could a player with that swing, with that distance, with that short game, with that level head, go so awry?

We all wondered, and some said it was just golf, and to be patient, and others said he was a mess, and was lost in the wilderness. When he announced earlier in the week that he was publicly breaking off his engagement with Wozniacki – on the same week the wedding invitations went out, for the love of drama – speculation ramped up to a fever pitch. Was he the world's biggest jerk, for breaking Wozniacki's heart with nuptials in sight? Or was he a young man dodging a bullet, making the right call sooner rather than later, knowing that to get out now was better than the alternative?

In the meantime, some wondered: What does this have to do with golf? You know, the grip, the stance, the mindset, the approach, the putting stroke. Enough with the drama. Can the dude golf his ball?

And then came Sunday at Wentworth in England.

With Danish veteran Thomas Bjorn firmly in command of the 54-hole lead, and with McIlroy a distant seven strokes back on Sunday morning, nobody expected a narrative of Rory Redemption. But golf is golf. And when Bjorn made a triple-bogey on the sixth hole, McIlroy walked off the 11th tee box, 2-under for his round thus far, glanced at the leader board and realized he had a pulse.

What happened next was Rory at his best: four birdies in the last seven holes, including back-to-back birdies on Nos. 17 and 18. He carded a smashing final-round 66, a tally that mocked Bjorn's final-round 75. It also fended off McIlroy's Irish pal Shane Lowry and gave young Rory a coveted one-stroke win at 14-under, in the most tumultuous week of his quarter-century on the planet.

He hadn't won on the European Tour since in Dubai in November 2012, an 18-month drought. His December 2013 win in Australia was nice, but to win in either Europe or the States was the ticket to Rory getting his groove back. For it to happen in the week of his rather public breakup made it theater of the highest order. He said as much.

"I was doing what I do best, playing golf," he said. "This gave me four or five hours or serenity, or sanctuary, whatever you want to call it."

We'll call it a welcome blast of great golf, and a huge harbinger of what lies ahead: the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in three weeks, the British Open in Hoylake in July, and the return of golf's charismatic young star.


71-68-66-66 – 9-under 271, Adam Scott, winner (playoff), PGA Tour Colonial Invitational, Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas.

Look at the golf world's new No. 1 player – all ready for prime time.

All you needed to do was study Scott's face over that putt on the third playoff hole in his duel with the very game Jason Dufner. That was not the face of an Aussie playboy who is just in it to cash checks. That was the face of a player who, almost in spite of his Hollywood biceps and jawline, was in it to win it.

Oh, he won it, all right. He made a birdie on the third playoff hole, No. 18 at Colonial, to fell Dufner, a fellow major champion, in the PGA Tour's best event of the year thus far.

What a statement from Scott. He was new to the No. 1 slot, only arriving there this week, and he cashed in in Tiger-esque fashion, with a victory. Almost as if to say: "Any questions? Now, somebody bring me my courtesy car. Pronto."

It was so delightful to see Scott hit a variety of golf shots at Hogan's Alley. Bantam Ben, who wouldn't have recognized Scott's gym-shaped physique were he around to comment, would have been proud of Scott's angles into greens, his irons knocking down flagsticks, his Sunday 66 when the heat was on.

For that matter, the Wee Ice Mon would have enjoyed Dufner's 66, too. The Auburn product's flat swing is Hogan-esque in so many ways, as is his utterly stoic demeanor. The Duf was good enough to take the world No. 1 into extra time, but couldn't match Scott's birdie-birdie finish on the last two playoff holes. That work from Scott was something else. He said so.

"This is a really special week for me," Scott said of his anointment as the world's best. "I was determined."

That he was. To see him finish off the win, don the red plaid jacket bestowed by Colonial, hug caddie Steve Williams, who seems to have a knack for being on the bag of the right guy, was to see every golf fan's fantasy: Scott and McIlroy, winners on Sunday in two different continents, locking horns in three weeks in Pinehurst. Let's do this, gents.


"The biggest part of this putt is the moment." – Peter Kostis, CBS, just before Scott's Colonial-winning birdie on the third playoff hole.

Well said, Pedro. For all of the awfulness of Scott's broom-style putter – a wand that will be outlawed in short order – he still needs to use it in times of great stress and pressure.

Such was the case two times in his playoff with Dufner. First, on the second playoff hole, when Dufner's approach was stoney and a sure birdie. Scott needed to jar his putt from the fringe, and he did. It was a "wow" moment, although I'm sure Dufner could think of a different word.

Next up was the third playoff hole, No. 18. Dufner had about 25 feet for birdie, and he missed, and that left Scott with 7 feet, 3 inches for birdie after an exquisite approach. Those who have followed Scott's career from his Tiger-esque beginnings in the early 2000s – same swing, same swing coach – knew that Scott's longtime demon was the putter under pressure.

He smashed that doubt with his 20-footer to win the 2013 Masters playoff over Angel Cabrera, a life-changing stroke if ever there was one.

Now, he had a chance to make good again, to prove the broom-handle putter can still deliver. Kostis called out the putt. Forget the break and the speed. It was all about the cojones, as they say south of Forth Worth.

Scott nailed it. The moment was his.


Thomas Bjorn is an interesting character. He's 43 now, and seems as relevant as ever.

Once, Bjorn was a threat to even the great Tiger Woods in his prime. Bjorn, simply the greatest Danish golfer ever, chased down and beat Tiger in the 2001 Dubai Desert Classic, a feat that burnished his résumé and made Tiger respect his game.

Bjorn's career is not short of glory. He's won 15 times on the European Tour, including twice in the last 12 months in a career renaissance for the man. Shoot, he finished T-8 at the Masters last month. Despite a few more pounds around the waistline since his early 2000s prime, Bjorn seems to have found a peaceful place for his golf swing and his temperament of late.

So it wasn't a huge surprise to see him hold a commanding five-shot lead at the BMW PGA Championship in England. Bjorn has that kind of game, and seems to have re-found it.

Except … Sunday happened.

Bjorn found himself in a fairway bunker on No. 6 at Wentworth and couldn't find his way out. His bunker escape nearly hit him on the ricochet, and Bjorn wound up making a hideous triple bogey to let everyone – especially eventual winner Rory McIlroy – back in the hunt.

For Bjorn, this was cruel history. In 2003, he had the Open Championship wrapped up at Royal St. George's, two shots up with three to play, but left two shots in a bunker on No. 16 en route to an unsightly demise. Ben Curtis would kiss the Claret Jug.

So for Bjorn to find more pain in the sand at Wentworth was just plain cruel. The Dane needs to avoid any sandy situations on Shakespeare's native turf.

So, in the interest of golf sanity, and to perhaps set up a Bjorn-McIlroy playoff at Wentworth, let's go back out to that sixth fairway, remind Bjorn that he needs no more bunker agony, let him get set, think through the shot and … give that man a mulligan!


It's going to be tough to beat the drama from this past weekend, but if anybody is cool enough to take on the task, it's Jack Nicklaus and his Memorial Tournament.

Rory McIlroy, with no need to constantly text his girlfriend, will be there. So will Phil Mickelson, looking for some mojo in a mojo-less year. And Jason Dufner, in good form. And, of course, the new No. 1 in the world, with his red plaid jacket and his matinee-idol good looks, which are mutually inclusive. Surely, the Golden Bear appreciates Adam Scott's flavor.

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