Las Vegas is famous for effecting rapid switches in fortune and so it proved for Rory McIlroy on Sunday night. Suddenly, the Northern Irishman’s 2021 does not seem nearly so bleak after he fought off a quality field to win the CJ Cup and its £1.3m first prize.
As McIlroy shot a 66 to reach 25-under and deny Open champion Collin Morikawa by a shot it was almost impossible to equate this exuberant figure with that pained golfer who in his last appearance three weeks ago was in tears at his woeful contribution to Europe in their record 19-9 defeat.
How did he turn it around so quickly? Simply by being Rory again.
“The Ryder Cup was huge, it really was,” McIlroy said. “On the Saturday night of that match, I was done with golf. I didn’t want to see golf again until 2022. But after I won my singles on the Sunday I thought: ‘Go to Vegas, and try to build on this little bit of a breakthrough that I’ve had.’
“There was a lot of reflection in the couple of weeks since then. This is what I need to do. I need to play golf, simplify it and just be me. I think for the last few months I was trying to be someone else to try to get better but realised that being me is enough and, being me, I can do things like this.”
If Saturday’s 62 at the Summit Club was McIlroy at his finest then Sunday reminded that he is a natural born winner. Most players would donate limbs to win twice on the PGA Tour in the same year – he also won in Charlotte in May – but most players are not the 32-year-old from Holywood, Belfast and it was this type of performance for which we had been waiting.
With Morikawa – a member of the uber-exclusive course just nine miles from the strip – in the clubhouse after his own magical 62, McIlroy knew he had to follow up on the five birdies and the definitive 34-foot eagle on the 14th by parring the last five holes, and he duly did so to become the 39th player in history to record 20 PGA Tour wins. He moves back into the world’s top 10 at No 8.
“To get to 20 wins here is a big achievement,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t know if it was going to be this week, but I knew if I just kept my head down and kept playing well and kept doing the right things that eventually I’d get there. To get a win, it’s great, it feels really good.”