Were Rory McIlroy’s Four Majors Due to Weak Competition? Or Just Good Timing?

Rory McIlroy Wins 2014 Open Championship Claret Jug
Rory McIlroy lifts the Claret Jug after winning the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, Hoylake. (Photo by Peter Byrne for PA Images via Getty Images)

It is hard to believe that Rory McIlroy has not won another major since that magical summer of 2014.

When he went wire-to-wire at Royal Liverpool to claim the Claret Jug, and then a month later stood on a darkened 18th hole at Valhalla holding his second Wanamaker (and fourth major trophy), McIlroy’s future was almost limitless.

Now 32-years-old, he holds as many majors (4) today as he did in the late summer of 2014, after turning 25.

Back then, he was the natural heir to Tiger Woods with some even suggesting he could end up with more majors than both Woods and Jack Nicklaus.

Nicklaus said in an ESPN Radio interview ahead of the 2014 PGA that Rory could win “15 or 20 majors or whatever he wants to do if he wants to keep playing.”

McIlroy, himself, added, “It’s inevitable that there’s going to be these comparisons. It’s hard to avoid.”

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy wins the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky on August 10, 2014. (Photo by Jeff Moreland-Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With four majors in a four season span, many predicted by the age of 32 he’d already be in the double digits.

Yet, he hasn’t even come close to winning another one.

Some say Rory’s early success was due to good timing, as the years between 2011 and 2014 were something of a transition period in golf with the talent level not nearly as deep as it is today.

Tiger, Ernie Els, and Phil Mickelson were no longer in their prime, and the younger generation (today’s stars) – such as Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, and Jon Rahm, among others – were a few years away, while same-age range contemporaries like Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, and Brooks Koepka had yet to peak.

While Rory won four times during this four-year span, Bubba Watson also won twice and hasn’t won another since.

Rory McIlroy Wins 2012 PGA Championship
Rory McIlroy poses with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the 94th PGA Championship at the Ocean Course on Aug 12, 2012 in Kiawah Island, SC. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird via Getty Images)

Major winners included Rory (4), Bubba (2), Keegan Bradley, Darren Clarke, Charl Schwartzel, Jason Dufner, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, Phil and Els.

In fact every major winner during this four-year period hadn’t won another major until Mickelson stunned the world with a PGA win in May.

Others say, Rory, a child prodigy who’d been groomed for majors, just peaked sooner than his peers. And once they caught up to him, it’s been more difficult. They point out that he’s not fallen off the map – he’s remained one of the world’s best players with 13 worldwide wins, two FedExCup titles, and a world No. 1 ranking twice. He’s just been unable to break through on the major stage.

Whatever it is, the fact remains: McIlroy, who’d won four majors in first 24 starts, including four in 15, has come up empty in each of his last 26 major starts. And he’s not even come close to knocking on the door of a fifth major.

2015 Major Golf Championship Season

McIlroy’s best finish following his career season was a solo 4th at the Masters but it was a backdoor top-5 and he was never in contention. Down 10 shots after 54 holes, McIlroy shot a final-round 66 to leap into the top 5, eight shots back of Jordan Spieth.

Masters – 4th (8 shots back)
U.S. Open – T9
The Open – DNP
PGA Championship – 17th

2016 Major Golf Championship Season

A T5 at the British Open was McIlroy’s best result at a major in 2016. Yet, he was never in contention, and was a whopping 12 shots behind the pace after three rounds. A Sunday 67 pushed him into the top-5, but 16 shots behind Henrik Stenson.

Masters – T10
U.S. Open – MC
The Open – T5 (16 shots back)
PGA Championship – MC

2017 Major Golf Championship Season

A T4 at the British Open was Rory’s best finish in a 2017 major. But he was nine shots behind after three rounds and only with a final-day 67 did he get a backdoor T7, seven shots back of Spieth.

Masters – T7
U.S. Open – MC
The Open РT4 (7 shots back)
PGA Championship – T22

2018 Major Golf Championship Season

The Masters was the only time Rory made it into the Sunday final pairing at a major. He was three shots back after 54 holes but a poor final round (74) knocked him out of the chase early, eventually tumbling to T5, six back of Patrick Reed.

At the British Open, he was four off lead after three rounds but dropped two shots early. A long bomb putt in the middle of his back nine put him into a tie with several players. But didn’t post a birdie the rest of the way, and finished in a four-way tie for second, two shots back of Francesco Molinari. McIlroy never threatened down the stretch.

Masters – T5 (6 shots back)
U.S. Open – MC
The Open – T2 (2 shots back)
PGA Championship – T50

2019 Major Golf Championship Season

McIlroy posted a T8 at the PGA but was never in contention or even in the top 10 for the first three rounds. A final-day 69 secured a meaningless top-10 finish, nine shots back of Brooks Koepka.

A 69-69 start at the U.S. Open had him in the top-5 at the halfway point. But weekend rounds of 70-72 saw him fall eight shots off the pace for a T9 result.

Masters – T21
PGA Championship – T8 (9 shots back)
U.S. Open – T9 (8 shots back)
The Open – MC

2020 Major Golf Championship Season

His best finish was a T5 at the Masters but was never in contention. He was eight shots behind Dustin Johnson after 54 holes and ended up nine short after 72 holes.

He entered Sunday’s finale of the U.S. Open six shots back but a 76 resulted in a meaningless T8, 12 shots back of Bryson DeChambeau.

Masters – T5 (9 shots back)
PGA Championship – T33
U.S. Open – T8 (12 shots back)
The Open – Canceled

2021 Major Golf Championship Season

The U.S. Open at Torrey Pines was Rory’s best shot. He was just two back after 54 holes and grabbed a share of lead during Sunday’s front nine but fell from contention with a double bogey on the 12th en route to a 73, five shots back of Jon Rahm, tied for seventh.

Masters – MC
PGA Championship – T49
U.S. Open – T7 (5 shots back)
The Open – TBD

Opinions, comments welcome.

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