Rory McIlroy’s recent realization could be first step in returning to the top of the golf world

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One year, six months, and six days. That was the winless drought Rory McIlroy broke at the Wells Fargo Championship back in May, his first triumph since becoming a father – insert perspective joke here.

Fast-forward five months and McIlroy once again lifted a trophy at the CJ Cup, played at The Summit Club in Las Vegas. This win, much like the one at Quail Hollow, was unexpected.

The last time we saw McIlroy was at Whistling Straits where he lost three of four matches at the 43rd Ryder Cup, and seemed to be treading water. He opened the week in Wisconsin with two losses on Friday, the first time he’s lost two matches on the same day in his Ryder Cup career. He’d be benched for Saturday’s morning session before losing once again in afternoon Four-ball.

That night, McIlroy wanted nothing to do with golf.

“I didn’t want to see golf again until 2022,” he said.

McIlroy was the first match out Sunday morning, playing against gold-medal winner Xander Schauffele. He entered that match with a different mindset. “I went out there and I won my point by doing whatever I could. I wasn’t trying to be perfect,” McIlroy said. “I wasn’t trying to hit shots that I wasn’t comfortable hitting, I just went out there to try to win my match and I did.”

Being himself, McIlroy earned a point for Europe with a 3-and-2 win.

Over the last year, we’ve seen McIlroy make changes, highlighted by the pursuit for more distance after Bryson DeChambeau’s win at Winged Foot. McIlroy, for context, has ranked inside the top five in driving distance on Tour since 2017, and is widely considered one of the best drivers of the golf ball in the history of the game.

Back in March it was reported McIlroy was working with Pete Cowen, while never breaking communication with his long time swing coach, Michael Bannon. Cowen was brought in to work on McIlroy’s wedge game, but more importantly to help the Northern Irishman better understand his swing allowing him to adjust on the fly during the course of a round.

“Where I think Pete is out on Tour enough to sort of give me maybe feels that I can play with and then stuff that I can work on the range.” McIlroy said during WGC Dell Technologies Match Play week back in March. “As everyone knows, it’s so hard to go out on the golf course and think so much about your golf swing.

“You need to be able to let that go and just be able to play shots. But if you have a couple little feels in there, it can help, and that’s sort of the reason that I’ve went down this road.”

Their early relationship showed little-to-no results with missed cuts at the Players (as the defending champion), and Masters. However, his very next start would force McIlroy to find some more room in the trophy case. After his win at the Wells Fargo, McIlroy’s game was good enough for six top 20s in his last eight Tour starts of the season (Olympics included), but never really had a chance to win.

Now, we’re here.

A realization that Rory being Rory is good enough to win, a fact seemingly known by everyone in the game expect McIlroy.

“I think for the last few months I was maybe trying to be someone else to try and get better, and I sort of realized that being me is enough, and I can do things like this.”

The return to his roots may be a result of another coaching change, as McIlroy reportedly returned to the sole guidance of Bannon as of the conclusion of the Ryder Cup.

A confident McIlroy is a scary sight for the rest of the PGA Tour. If he truly embraces his game being not only good enough to win, but good enough to return him to best player in the world status, his notorious bouncing-stride will become common-place Sunday afternoons.

“I’m capable of winning a lot of events on the PGA Tour and being the best player in the world.”

We’ll see McIlroy again in a few weeks, as he’s joined the star-studded field in Albany, The Bahamas for Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge.

With his recent form, it’s important to note: Only 169 days until the opening round of the Masters.