'I was sitting here this week and people were wondering if I was going to retire'
The 20-time PGA Tour tournament winner admitted he had almost packed in golf for 2021.
On Saturday night at Whistling Straits, in Wisconsin, Rory McIlroy was at rock bottom.
The 32-year-old was supposed to be Team Europe's big gun, alongside World No.1 Jon Rahm, but he had been blown out of the water. Paired with Ian Poulter [twice] and Shane Lowry, McIlroy struggled over the opening two days and was 0-3 going into the Sunday singles.
He was going to go out 11 or 12 on that final day, and then bin off golf for the rest of the year, but the likes of Lowry, Rahm, Sergio Garcia and more delivered a pep-talk that helped get his groove back. He went out on the Sunday and downed Xander Schauffele before breaking down in tears on live TV and vowing to help Europe retain a Ryder Cup they would be leaving in US hands.
McIlroy rediscovered some of that magic against Schauffele, the Olympic champion, and he realised he did not have to be perfect on every shot. He simply had to visualise each shot and try manifest it as best as possible.
After a short break, he headed to Las Vegas for the $9.75m [total purse] CJ Cup at Summit Golf Course and steadily put himself in contention. 68 was followed by 67 before a 62 on Saturday put him in the final grouping with Rickie Fowler, who still led by two, and Abraham Ancer.
On Sunday, McIlroy shot a superb 66 to beat reigning Open champion Collin Morikawa by one stroke and claimed his 20th PGA Tour title. Following that win, he spoke to NBC about getting back to what he does best.
"I need to just be me. I think for the last few months I was maybe trying to be someone else to try and get better. I realised that being me is enough, and being me I can do things like this."
Rory McIlroy sounds like a man who mightn't be too far away from turning a cornerpic.twitter.com/a1lbD5t5qq
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) October 18, 2021
In a Zoom press briefing, after the trophy presentation, McIlroy spoke about the road back from the lows of Saturday at The Ryder Cup, and how his goals have changed since he turned professional, at the age of 18, back in 2007.
"On the Saturday night of the Ryder Cup, I was done with golf," he admitted. "I didn't want to see golf again until 2022.
"Sunday night at the Ryder Cup I thought 'Go to Vegas, go to CJ and try to build on this little bit of a breakthrough that you've had'."
Securing 20 wins on the PGA Tour means you get a life-time exemption for tour events, and McIlroy says it may help him in terms of scheduling and taking time off to be with family more often.
Asked what it was like to have notched up 20 wins on the PGA Tour, the Holywood native took everyone back to his first pro outing at the Australian Masters, in 2007.
"I remember I turned pro in '07 and I went down and played the Australian Masters at the end of that year. I got my European Tour card and the first two days I was paired with Aaron Baddeley.
"And Aaron Baddeley was, I think he was 18th in the world. I remember playing with him for the first two days and thinking, 'Oh, my God, this guy is 18th in the world. How cool would that be?'
"You know, I was sitting here this week before the start of this tournament as the 14th player in the world and basically people wondering if I was going to retire.
"It’s all relative. I just think as a kid starting out, I remember those two days with Aaron Baddeley. We both played really well. Again, he was having a great year, he got to like No.18 in the world, and I as an 18-year-old really looked up to him and really looked up to that and thinking hopefully one day that will be me.
"What I thought was an achievement at the start of my career when I turned pro was to get into the top 20 in the world. So I’ve surpassed all of that, but as you go on, your goals, you have to reframe everything and you have to keep re-setting your goals."
McIlroy may reset several goals heading in 2022, but his main focus will be securing his fifth Major.
His first opportunity, next year, will be at Augusta National. If he can bottle his CJ Cup performance and bring that to The Masters, he would take some beating.