THEY say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but one imagines that any fondness Rory McIlroy might have for the absence of a major title has surely passed into the realms of frustration by now.
Seven years have now passed since his last major triumph, the 2014 PGA Championship. Back then, most in the golfing world presumed his next would be a mere inevitability. That expectation being the Masters, not only giving him his fifth major but also completing his career Grand Slam of wins in all four majors; The Open, the US Open, the PGA Championship and the big one, the Masters.
A three-year spurt of major wins between 2011 and 2014 saw Rory claim three of the sport's four top honours. The US Open in 2011, The Open in 2014, and the aforementioned PGA in 2012 and again in 2014. When you reel them off like that now you can see why everyone thought he was the next Tiger Woods.
Nothing should be taken away from McIlroy's achievements. Four majors more than secures his reputation as a great in the game. But as Sky Sports pundit Nick Dougherty pointed out recently, without adding the green jacket from Augusta he will remain just a step away from the legendary status bequeathed by a Career Grand Slam.
The Down man needs a victory at Augusta National to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods in having claimed all four major titles in their career. Many players have won multiples of individual majors. But only these five have completed the entire set, establishing themselves as legends beyond even the wondrous achievements of stars in the calibre of Watson, Langer, Norman, Faldo, Els, and Singh.
So, six times since his last major, McIlroy has attempted to complete the task. Six times there were grounds to be optimistic that it was about to happen. Six times it has failed to materialise. Now in his seventh attempt, Rory looks further away from completing the Grand Slam than ever before. Now, some question McIlroy's ability to get the job done at all, despite the widespread belief that the Georgian course is ideally suited to Rory's game and style.
Sure, McIlroy went on to win his majors after that horrendous evening but one fears the trauma of that day left a scarring on McIlroy psyche that he has failed to recover from. Haunting his every move whenever he returns to Augusta National.
McIlroy has tried everything to get himself back into a place where his confidence in his game will get him to that point of success once again.
This has taken the shape of changed clubs, golf balls, and swings. The latest adjustment was to his drive, in an effort to get him some extra length that could be useful at Augusta. This push for distance was influenced by the manner of Bryson DeChambeau's ranging win at this year's US Open. But McIlroy admitted any gains in distance faltered in the top of his backswing resulting in a very poor performance at TPC, Sawgrass last month. A broken swing led to a shaky short game and then indifferent putting. In his frustration, McIlroy turned to driving coach Pete Cowen in an attempt to tie down a rhythm, which may be what he needs but not confidence-building just days before the biggest major in the game.
In golfing terms, the 31-year-old McIlroy is still a young man and will have chances no doubt as time goes on. But for now, McIlroy is without a win of any sort since November 2019 and has slipped to 12th in the world rankings.
Who knows? Maybe this kind of form will stand to him. He does not have the weight of expectations of being No 1 on his shoulders this year. Out of the spotlight maybe he can get the memory of 2011 out of his head and surprise us all. Seventh time's a charm.