PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – What’s different about Rory McIlroy in 2014?
That’s easy: everything.
The McIlroy who is 11 under through 36 holes at the Honda Classic is not the McIlroy of 2009, when he finished third in the PGA Championship, behind Tiger Woods and winner Y.E. Yang.
He’s not the McIlroy of 2010, when he broke through with his first Tour victory, at the Quail Hollow Championship. Later that year, he opened with a 63 in the Open Championship at the Old Course and then faded with a second-round 80 before finishing third to Louis Oosthuizen.
Nor is he the McIlroy of 2011, when he opened with a 65 at the Masters and faltered on the back nine Sunday, shooting 80. He came back two months later at Congressional, where he shattered the U.S. Open scoring record with a 16-under 268.
And, he’s certainly not the McIlroy who won the Honda Classic in convincing fashion in 2012 and then followed with victories at the PGA, Deutsche Bank and BMW events.
Obviously, he’s not the McIlroy of 2013, when he struggled to find a swing with new equipment and had every semblance of his psyche shattered by the ghosts of his past and the beliefs in his future.
The good and the bad are clearly behind McIlroy, and it has showed so far this week at PGA National.
“I think it’s just a sign of a little more maturity, as well, not really trying to force the issue or press because I’ve made a couple of bogeys early,” McIlroy, 24, said of his ability to recover from two bogeys in his first three holes of his second round at the Champion Course to shoot 4-under 66. “Just stay patient and realize (it’s a) 72‑hole golf tournament. It’s inevitable that you’re going to make some bogeys in there, get yourself out of position.”
Were there times that McIlroy’s maturity came through in the past? Yes, but was it part of his vast arsenal? Doubtful.
McIlroy had the ability at times to let the moment become too big, and with it his performance would suffer. But when you saw how he maneuvered his way around PGA National on Friday, it was clear that the experiences of last year have been etched deeply into his psyche. He has the ability to summon the confidence to perform.
“I knew that with the way I’m playing and the confidence in my ability, I would be able to get those shots back,” McIlory said of his six-birdie performance after his two-bogey misstep early in the round. “I didn’t panic. I didn’t try to do anything different. Just tried to keep playing the way I was.”
Of course, it’s only two rounds. Not only is there a lot of golf to play yet this week, but the year has four majors left, plus numerous other big events.
Is it possible to read too much into two rounds? Yes, which is why what McIlroy said after his round is likely a better indicator of future performance.
“When you hit a few good shots, your confidence can go up quite quickly,” he said. “But then you hit one bad one, it can sort of go down again and that’s where I was sort of most of last year. Where now I feel I’m happy with where my swing is, and even if I do hit a loose shot, I can get over it much quicker and much easier because I have the confidence in what I’m doing.”