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Dublin: 12 °C Saturday 1 November, 2014

In the swing: for Rory, this one’s been coming

The great Jack Nicklaus essentially told McIlroy that par golf would probably be enough to win on Sunday. It was.

Image: Lynne Sladky/AP/Press Association Images

RORY MCILROY – NOW officially the best golfer on the planet. Pretty impressive isn’t it, particularly for a man of 22?

It had been coming for a while.

We have all known for some time, arguably as long ago as when he turned professional and came third at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship to all but secure his European Tour card, that he is the most talented player out there.

His swift rise to the summit of world golf at such a young age is proof.

It may not have been the most spectacular final round, in great contrast to that of runner-up Tiger Woods, but he did enough to get the job done.

The great Jack Nicklaus was on commentary duty over the final few holes with the host broadcaster in the United States and he explained to viewers that he had spoken briefly with Rory, giving him advice for the final round. He essentially told him that par golf would probably be enough to win. It was.

In hindsight, though, McIlroy will be looking at the fact that he managed to hole some crucial putts early in the final round. On the second he holed a 13-footer for par. On the fifth he holed an eight-footer for par. On the seventh a 12-footer went down. On the eighth he saved from 10 feet.

In the 2011 season, his putting percentage on the PGA Tour from 5-15 feet was 42.74%. So of the four putts I’ve just mentioned, if we were going on the statistics, he’s not even making two of those on an average day.

So what’s the conclusion? Did he get lucky, or did he deliver when the pressure really came on?

His putting was often the most criticised aspect of his game, so the fact that he managed to make so many long ones would suggest he has made significant improvements in that area, even if you’re of the opinion that there was a bit of luck involved.

To a tee

What is in absolutely no doubt is his ability from tee to green. His US Open victory last year was a display of the highest calibre from, particularly off the tee and he has shown consistently thereafter that he is arguably the best driver of a ball out there.

His Sunday round, however, was one of the rare occasions where his long game let him down. The fact that he had those long par putts in the first place shows there was a chink in the chain somewhere along the way between the tee and the green. Thankfully for Rory, he managed to compensate what little flaw there was with some outstanding chipping and putting. It took great composure and self-belief to deliver when the part of the game that he relies on and which seems to come so naturally to him wasn’t working at 100%.

His form over the last six months or so would suggest that now he has possession of the number one ranking, it will be very difficult for anyone to get it back off him. The statistic that is being much quoted is that in his last 11 ranking events, he has only finished outside the top five on one occasion. That’s just incredible golf really.

What’s more is that he has shown no sign of letting up. There’s very little to suggest that this is merely a purple patch. When you look at him play, you get the feeling he can play this well for a long time. Arguments have been made that he needs to win more consistently – well this could be the season where he wins quite a few times.

Another point that Jack Nicklaus made in his cameo commentary appearance was that McIlroy is still learning. We have seen this learning process evolve from when he came on tour, leading to his first win, through his Sunday disaster at last year’s Master, to his US Open victory, until the point where he is now. If he continues in this vein, the sky really is the limit.

One man who’ll be using every fibre of his being to stop McIlroy adding to his tally and storming ahead in the rankings is Tiger Woods. Woods seems to still be improving. His closing round of 62 was the lowest he has ever shot on a Sunday in his entire career. It is the most significant sign yet that he is “back”, as people tend to say. The belief he’ll take from that final round is huge, and if he keeps on playing regularly and gets more and more tournaments under his belt it will be a matter of when he wins again, not if.

The Masters is only around the corner folks. It’s setting up to be a classic.

Back to the future: McIlroy is the new face of golf

In pictures: The rise and rise of Rory McIlroy, world number one

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