Teeing it up for the first time in the new calendar year, Rory McIlroy held a commanding lead in Sunday’s final round of the Dubai Invitational. Unfortunately, a few critical mistakes, including a snap-hook drive into the water on the 72nd hole, cost him the tournament.
Although the “drive for show, putt for dough” cliché doesn’t exactly hold up to scrutiny when you dive into modern ball-striking and advanced putting statistics, Rory’s career kind of has that vibe. He’s maybe the best driver of the ball to ever live, yet his flat stick lets him down too often.
This was the case on the par-3 14th hole, when he three-putted from two feet away.
As per usual, Rory had a great, bigger-picture perspective on what unfolded in his first tournament of 2024.
Rory McIlroy says he had "a couple little mental errors in there hopefully I'll clean up for next week" after three putting from 2 feet & dunking his tee shot in the water on 18 before losing by one shot to Tommy Fleetwood in Dubai. pic.twitter.com/baYSS5O8SM
Dude is just pure class. He was the unofficial spokesman of the PGA Tour for all of last season amid the turbulent situation involving a LIV Golf merger or whatever that’s going to look like. Then, there’s this cloud that hangs over his head and follows him everywhere: The completion of the career Grand Slam at The Masters.
Honestly at this point, Rory stans would take a major championship, which the world No. 2 hasn’t accomplished since the 2014 PGA. Who would’ve thought that Rory would go on a decade-long major drought once he picked up his fourth in the dark at Valhalla?
My working theory is that Rory is too talented to not win multiple majors in what’s supposed to be his golfing prime, and that the floodgates will open any day now. You can forgive him for not being fully dialed in for the Dubai Invitational. That he still almost beat a world-class field and began his week with a round of 62 just shows what Rory is still capable of.
The most encouraging part of this joint runner-up finish? Sunday marked the third time in four days that Rory actually only needed 25 putts over the course of 18 holes, or so the DP World Tour stats tell me. That’s with the three-putt from close range. How about that? Rory, in fact, had one of the best overall putting weeks I can recall seeing from him. How good of a roll was this on the 15th hole, right after that three-jack?
So yeah. All those close calls at The Masters — most notably, a blown 54-hole lead of four strokes back in 2011 — have cast a long shadow over the rest of Rory’s career.
Were I Rory, it’d be quite a challenge to stay engaged and locked in for most non-major events. Like a less extreme version of Smash GC pro golfer Brooks Koepka. Rory has more money than he could ever spend. He’s won damn near every significant tournament on the planet save for a few. He’s a zero-doubt Hall of Famer. Still only 34 years old. Like…Rory is the man.
I swear, if Rory had won in Dubai, all the Masters chatter would begin right away. It’d be all, “Oh! Rory wins his first start of the season! Is this a sign of what’s to come at Augusta!?” He’s avoiding all that for now. While it hurts in the moment I’m sure to fall short of a win, I have a funny feeling Rory is just slow-playing, long-gaming and 4D chess finessing this whole thing to set up a green jacket in April.
Or at least that’s my deepest hope and I’m running with it… go get ’em, Rors.