He may not have had the Royal Portrush homecoming he and so many of his followers were hoping for – but it’s still been a remarkable year for the trailblazing Rory McIlroy.
The Northern Ireland ace not only augmented his bank account after his FedEx Cup win but also his burgeoning reputation by being crowned PGA Tour Player of the Year for the third time in his glittering career this week.
McIlroy’s success represents the triumph of consistency over silverware after failing to win a major this year. He has not won one since he scooped The Open and PGA Championship in 2014 but nevertheless sustaining a frighteningly polished level of performance throughout the duration of the tour.
And having beaten Brooks Koepka to one of the sport’s most prestigious accolades, here’s the story of how McIlroy was able to achieve such a feat.
It was an impressive start to the year for the 30-year-old, entering 2019 as world number seven but quickly ascending the rankings after a series of promising performances.
After tying fourth in the Genesis Open, the Northern Irishman went on to finish second in Mexico as Dustin Johnson waltzed his way to a five-shot victory.
And he took that momentum with him into the Players Championship, shooting clinical rounds of 67 and 65 to edge past Jim Furyk with a one-shot victory.
With major season fast approaching, McIlroy set about continuing his fine run of form and climbed to number three in the world after the Dell Technologies Match Play and travelling to the Masters full of confidence.
However, his bid for the career Grand Slam never really got off the ground and he finished T21st at Augusta, while Tiger Woods captured the headlines and the Green Jacket.
With the new schedule moving the PGA Championship to May, McIlroy had another major shot straight away at the notoriously tough Bethpage Black.
But with Koepka producing four stellar rounds, there was little he could do and evejtually finished T8.
The peril of Portrush
The US Open marked McIlroy’s final major dress rehearsal before his return to his native country, going to Pebble Beach with a Canadian Open triumph under his belt thanks to a quite brilliant final round of 61.
But he was not at his fluent best on the Californian coast, fading as the weekend went on as Gary Woodland secured a historic triumph.
McIlroy nevertheless arrived at The Open as one of the favourites, eager to engineer a romantic triumph that would go down in golfing folklore.
“It’s going to be a massive week for golf, for the country, and for me personally,” he said on the eve of the tournament.
“It’s just about harnessing that support and harnessing that environment the right way and trying to use it to your advantage.
“I have to go out there with a good mindset and obviously not let the occasion get the better of me and hopefully produce some good golf and give myself a chance.”
But it wasn’t to be. A wayward first tee shot summed up his first round 78 and that effectively ended his chances of a fairy-tale on the opening day.
McIlroy’s dream of that evocative homecoming may have died a sad death, but his desire to get back to his best, however, had not.
He came back 24 hours later and produced one of the rounds of the week, chasing down the cut line with every hole.
He engineered a quite brilliant 65 as he struck the ball beautifully, ultimately missing out by just a single stroke.
“I am unbelievably proud of how I handled myself today coming back after what was a very challenging day [Thursday],” he said.
“And I am just full of gratitude towards every single one of the people that followed me to the very end and was willing me on.
“Today was probably one of the most fun rounds of golf I've ever played. It's strange saying that standing here and having had a bit of success and won this championship before, and just to be battling to make the cut.”
FedEx Cup glory and PGA Tour Player of the Year
With Royal Portrush appearing an anomaly, McIlroy continued to go about his business with a T4 in the FedEx St Jude Invitational and then T6 at the Northern Trust last month.
Then came the decisive triumph and the highlight of his year; a Tour Championship victory in Atlanta giving him the sport’s largest ever pay-out – a staggering £12.2m – and making him only the second player ever to win multiple FedEx Cups.
And McIlroy’s coronation as the tour’s finest player soon followed, confirmed earlier this week and a title rewarding him for his astonishingly consistent run of form since 2019 begun.
After a quite marvellous year, a major-hungry McIlroy will head into 2020 striking renewed fear into his competitors.