Rory McIlroy spent Sunday evening with the most important women in his life, his Mum. With no date to celebrate his first professional win in Europe McIlroy returned to Northern Ireland en route to the United States to catch up and no doubt share some personal thoughts with the women he will never remove from his life.
McIlroy is the favourite for the Memorial Tournament on the USPGA Tour this week on the back of winning the PGA Championship, the flagship event of the European Tour. Last Wednesday McIlroy appeared distraught after ending his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki. Now after a weekend at Wentworth he seems back to his effervescent best.
The former world number one has been playing well all year and just waiting for the type of final round he produced last weekend. He was seven shots adrift of Thomas Bjorn ahead of his fourth round and won the tournament by one shot. He was helped by the collapse of Bjorn who looked a certain winner on Saturday evening.
Five shots is the type of final round lead that should secure a win but capitulations from these positions of dominance are not rare occurrences. Bjorn was just about assured of qualifying for the Ryder Cup and still looks a leading contender to make the European team. The demons that have been part of Bjorn’s career resurfaced after one poor hole and a triple bogey seven.
McIlroy started the final round seemingly out of contention and thankful to be playing over the weekend. Thanks to his own brilliance and Bjorn’s demise another Danish sportsperson was left upset as McIlroy won his first event in Britain and a prize of £640,000. He won’t have to spend any of that on gifts for Ms Wozniacki who was no doubt wondering about her future as she prepared for the French Open in Paris.
Luke Donald is also playing in the States this week. He chipped in twice on the back nine as he made a great run at winning the PGA Championship for the third time in four years. Donald showed great resolve to get in the mix but left himself with too much to do. He found water by the 18th green as he slightly miscued an approach shot that needed to find the green to give himself a chance of an eagle and a play-off with McIlroy.
In the context of the next major of the season, the US Open, this was a great form pointer from McIlroy. The host course for the second major is one that should suit McIlroy’s game and he must now be a leading contender. He can now focus on golf and for the first time in almost eighteen months he has an uncluttered mind. It will be interesting to see if mental letdown affects him in the Memorial this week.
McIlroy is already one half of his way to a career Grand Slam and looks destined to join the elite group of five players who have won each of the majors at least once. He won the US Open in 2011 by eight shots less than two months after throwing away a great chance to win the Masters. He would probably swap ten Memorials for his next major and motivation could be a problem this week.
First played in 1976 this tournament is hosted by Jack Nicklaus on a course at Muirfield Village he conceived and built. It is generally regarded as among the most prestigious of non-major events on the USPGA Tour. There is a limited field of just 105 players. Nicklaus continues to tinker with the course to test modern players. Over the years it has been lengthened and the fairways remodelled.
Despite severe rough at times depending on the weather the course puts a premium on driving distance over accuracy. Bunkers are regularly moved or reshaped so that they are genuine hazards. Muirfield Village is not so demanding from the tee as it was in the past. Defending champion Matt Kuchar was 37th for fairways hit last year, led the field in greens in regulation and was second for strokes gained putting. He was also longer than average off the tee.
Adam Scott is the new world number one after winning the Colonial Tournament last week. The Masters champion from last year has recovered brilliantly from the disappointment of wasting a great opportunity to win the Open Championship in 2012. He has made seven of eight cuts at Nicklaus’s complex and has finished in the top 15 three times. Mental letdown could be a problem as he spends his first week at the pinnacle of the sport.
If results had panned out differently Henrik Stenson could have taken over from Tiger Woods as statistically the best player in the world. He won the Race to Dubai and FedEx Cup last season after a run of form during which he hardly missed a shot in three months. Stenson returns to the country of his birth this week as he has entered the Nordea Masters in Sweden on the European Tour.
The Nordea Masters is being played on the Sweden National course in Malmo. The venue is debuting on the European Tour so there is no course from to assess and that can make identifying potential winners difficult. At almost 7400 yards the course is about average by modern standards. The key skills for decent scoring are driving distance, finding the greens in the correct number of shots and then putting well.
Brooks Koepka is the only player in the field in the top 50 for each of these disciplines. He is just inside the top 100 in the world rankings and is playing in Europe to learn his trade but before trying to qualify for the Tour in the United States where he was born. Koepka has yet to win on the main Tour in Europe. However he has won four times on the Challenge Tour so has a proven winning temperament.
Despite what happens in Sweden McIlroy will still be the main focus of the golfing and general media. Restored to some form of personal equilibrium he could have another good week but his main focus is now to prepare for the US Open, the first major since leaving his fiancée and for which he is now the favourite.
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