Time Running Out For Rory McIlroy’s Grand Slam Quest?

Rory McIlroy Dubai
Rory McIlroy during a practice round ahead of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates GC on Jan 24, 2023 in Dubai, UAE. (Photo by David Cannon via Getty Images)

For the ninth consecutive year, going back to 2015, Rory McIlroy entered the Masters Tournament with a chance at immortality: becoming one of just six golfers in history to complete the career grand slam.

(The current five are: Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen)

After a second-round 77, though, the soon-to-be 34-year-old Northern Irishman missed the cut and will spend the next 12 months licking his wounds and wondering if it will ever happen.

When he tees it up next year at Augusta, McIlroy will be less than 30 days out from his 35th birthday. While that’s not considered “old” by any means, especially for a player like McIlroy, who keeps fit and immerses himself in technology and science, it’s also not an age that has a very big window either.

In 2022 for instance, each of the four major winners were under 30. In fact, the only major winner since 2021 over the age of 35 was Phil Mickelson, who was 50 when he won the PGA.

Going back to 2017, only three of the 24 major winners (or 12.5%) were over the age of 35:

Age of Major Winners Since 2017
20-35 – 21
36-50 – 3

The median age of the major winner during this stretch (2017-2023) is 27.5. The mean is 28.35.

So, anyone who says, “Rory is coming into his prime” is simply spinning. His prime started around 2016.

Sure, it’s very possible to win a major after 35, particularly for someone as talented as Rory, but it is not a common occurrence.

Median Age of Major Winners By Season
2023 – 28.0
2022 – 27.5
2021 – 27.5
2020 – 27.0
2019 – 33.0
2018 – 30.0
2017 – 25.5

The good news for Rory: because it’s the only major played on the same course, the Masters is the most conducive to a winner over the age of 35 due to the experience factor (see Jack and Tiger after 40, or even Phil’s T2 last weekend at 52). Since 2017, nearly half (3 of 7) of its champions have been over the age of 35 (Dustin Johnson 2020, Tiger Woods 2019, Sergio Garcia 2017).

Age of Masters Winners
2023 – 28
2022 – 25
2021 – 29
2020 – 36
2019 – 43
2018 – 28
2017 – 37

Another interesting statistic: according to golf stat guru Justin Ray, no player who’s won at least five majors has been stuck on four for more than seven years.

Credit: Twitter/Justin Ray

Rory is going on 10 years.



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