“It feels like a long time…but it feels as good as I can remember,” McIlroy said Sunday afternoon on the final green at Dubai’s Jumeirah Golf Estates.
However, 14 kilograms of sterling silver is no easy lift. It wasn’t long before the cup was resting at McIlroy’s feet.
He had to carry enough weight this year.
Professional golf’s waters have undoubtedly become more choppy in recent months with the launch of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf League, which made a major resurgence this summer by scooping up some of the top names on the PGA Tour, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and newly minted. Open champion, Cameron Smith, while becoming a focus of controversy.
But as waves of peers swarmed for the big paychecks, McIlroy didn’t just stand firm. He volunteered to put the PGA Tour on his back and carry it through this whirlwind activity, becoming the tour’s official spokesperson and one of its greatest advocates.
He took the proverbial wheel of players who remained loyal to the PGA Tour, helping – along with Tiger Woods and a handful of others – make a big change, while also not being afraid to make his opinions known.
So, LIV Golf wasn’t quite “dead in the water” as McIlroy proclaimed back in February, but McIlroy maintained that with its many syllables, and in the face of flak and vitriol, he meant every word. For him, LIV Golf is still the ‘easy way out’, nothing more than a cash grab.
And though he recently tempered his belief that “there is no place in the golf world for LIV Golf,” he still doesn’t mince words. Earlier this week, when discussing Startups League CEO Greg Norman, McIlroy said that since the legal battles involved between the LIV and the PGA Tour, Norman needed to “get out of the stage left” and make way for “an adult in the room.” If peace was between the two rounds were to be made.
“I think what I say are the right things,” McIlroy said in August, “and I think when you believe what you say are the right things, you’re happy to stick your neck on the line.”
But McIlroy wasn’t just talking. He provided plenty of bite, too. In 22 starts worldwide this calendar year, McIlroy broke into the top ten in more than half. Of those fourteen top-10 finishes, he’s landed in the top five 12 times, including three wins and a singles fourth on Sunday at the DP World Championships, shooting 65-68 in the weekend to finish four shots over winner John Hold Ram. Matt Fitzpatrick and a few others received the Vardon Award. (Only Colin Montgomery, with eight, and Sword Ballesteros, with six, have lifted Vardon more.)
Full field scores from the DP World Championships
McIlroy’s worst finish in the 10 events that count towards the Race to Dubai this year? T-12.
“I’ve been a model of consistency all year,” said McIlroy.
Always a champion. No, McIlroy didn’t raise any major gear, Settlement for a quadruple Top 8 player, but will head into the holiday season simultaneously possessing three notable rankings:
• Race to Dubai Winner
• FedExCup Champion
• World No. 1
“It’s an incredible achievement, an achievement I’ve never been able to achieve,” McIlroy said Sunday. “I was able to win this Tour ranking and finish the year as world number one, but to do it in America as well, yeah, it’s pretty cool. I keep saying I’ve been a pro now for over 15 years, and I’m still trying to figure out ways to try to get things done.” New stuff, that’s what keeps me coming back.
“I feel healthy. I’m 33, and I feel like my body is in the best shape it’s ever been, and I hope it’s moving forward and continuing to move forward.”
Highlights: The best shots from the final round of the DP World Championship
McIlroy still has two years to go as one of four player directors on the PGA Tour’s Players’ Advisory Council, so he likely still has a lot of heavy lifting yet to do. But while he looked forward to some downtime – his remaining schedule this year includes only exhibition matches with Woods, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas – McIlroy seemed content with the work he did as a touring stronghold.
When asked on Sunday if he intended to be part of any future meetings between the rival powers, McIlroy thought he did not feel the need to be part of such meetings.
“It’s definitely above my pay,” said McIlroy. “It’s not something I want to be involved with. I’m a golfer, and I try to stick with that kind of thing.”
McIlroy noted that it’s been eight years — and it’s going to be nine — since he won the 2014 PGA Championship. He’s come close to a group during this long drought, but close It does not fill the cup case. Time and time again, including most recently after his agonizing end at St Andrews, McIlroy had to “dust myself…and keep on believing.”
“It’s the one thing I haven’t achieved that I would like to do again,” McIlroy said Sunday of being a major champion. “We get four opportunities a year. I want to make sure I’m in the best possible shape and in the best possible position to take advantage of those four opportunities.”
If or when his next big moment comes, McIlroy shouldn’t have any issues with his trophy weight.
He will definitely lift this thing up high and won’t let go.