Rory McIlroy is used to the intense gaze of the golfing world being locked onto his every move but that feeling will be enhanced tenfold at the 148th Open Championship.
For the first time in McIlroy’s lifetime, The Open will be held in Northern Ireland at Royal Portrush – where he holds the course record.
Expectations will be high from a partisan home crowd and from McIlroy himself.
But McIlroy heads home without a major championship to his name in the past five years, the last of his four coming at the 2014 US PGA Championship.
At that time it seemed laughable McIlroy would not add to his tally. Now, though, after several near misses, the question of whether the 30-year-old can be a major winner again is up for debate, which is exactly what two Omnisport writers have done ahead of The Open.
— The Open (@TheOpen) 9 July 2019
STAND STILL AND YOU GO BACKWARDS IN THIS GAME, RORY – RUSSELL GREAVES
In 2014, McIlroy had the world at his feet. His Valhalla victory made it back-to-back major triumphs, the 25-year-old adding the US PGA title to the Claret Jug he had lifted the month before.
With four majors to his name, the sky was the limit.
But in the game of golf, if you stand still you will go backwards. And that is the fate that has befallen McIlroy.
In the past three years alone, Brooks Koepka has drawn level with McIlroy’s major haul, while Jordan Spieth is within one. Even Tiger Woods, who was declared finished by some, has returned to the winner’s circle at one of golf’s four headline events.
McIlroy, meanwhile, has flattered to deceive, collecting top-10 finishes (10 of them, in fact) without ever showing the killer instinct to finish the job.
There have been collapses, but mostly he has just faded away or else quietly put together a decent Sunday round to add window dressing to an underwhelming outing.
His form at The Open underscores this tendency to appear on the radar without actually threatening to strike.
In 2016 he placed tied fifth after a fine closing 67, but he was 16 shots adrift of the imperious Henrik Stenson. A year later, at Royal Birkdale, another final-round 67 saw him share fourth spot, seven strokes behind. And last year, when Carnoustie hosted, he was within two of Francesco Molinari’s winning score.
McIlroy has often appeared to be in close proximity to major glory, but he has in truth been a world away, gazing longingly from the vantage point of a man who once knew what such lofty achievements felt like. It is a feeling he may never experience again.
Rory McIlroy will become the first European to win 3 different majors since The Masters was founded in 1934. pic.twitter.com/Bwov2zuIem
— The Open (@TheOpen) 20 July 2014
RORY IS A VICTIM OF HIS OWN SUCCESS, HE WILL BE A MAJOR WINNER AGAIN – PETER HANSON
Let’s put something into context here. McIlroy had four major wins to his name before the age of 30.
Only three players could boast more by the same milestone. Two of those were Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, the greatest to have played this toughest of sports.
You see the problem when a player like McIlroy is marked as a prodigious talent is that anything short of the extraordinary is deemed a failure.
But not many in history can lay claim to the same achievements by this stage of his career than McIlroy can. Against what benchmark should we be monitoring him here?
The successes of Spieth and Koepka are not an indication of a player standing still, more an era in which it is nigh on impossible to stand as a lone dominant force.
McIlroy’s top-10 finishes must not be viewed as a sign of failure but as one of a player with remarkable consistency.
No one will be more disappointed than McIlroy himself that things have not quite been able to click all at once over four days in major tournaments over the past five years.
But when it does all come together, and it absolutely will, McIlroy – who has been a victim of his own success – will be a major champion once again.