Rory McIlroy wins every time if we're all at the top of our game, says Matt Wallace ahead of US Open
Two majors further into the calendar, the Briton’s first practice round at Pebble Beach on Monday was played out without a call being put into the Northern Irishman.
“I thought Rory would probably be too hungover!” joked Wallace, in a nod to McIlroy’s celebrations in the wake of a dominant Canadian Open victory on Sunday which marked him out as one of the clear favourites for the US Open when it gets under way in two days’ time.
Back in 2014, when a 25-year-old McIlroy had just won the fourth Major of his career, it seemed unthinkable at the time that five years would pass without another to his name.
But 18 Majors have been played out, half of which McIlroy has ended up in the top 10 without ever truly endangering the clubhouse lead.
For Wallace, who finished third at last month’s US PGA, there is only one possible winner at Pebble Beach if it can’t be himself.
“If everyone plays their best golf in the world, then Rory wins by an absolute streak every time,” said the 29-year-old from Hillingdon.
“If Rory plays his best this week, he wins it, plain and simple. He showed exactly that in Canada. So, as with every Major, he would be my pick to win it.”
With such a game, it begs the question why the sublimely talented 30-year-old, first a Major winner eight years ago, has been unable to add to his tally.
“Pressure situations affect different people in different ways,” added Wallace. “Obviously, the pressure — as with everyone — affects the way he performs. We saw that initially with Brooks Koepka at the PGA, when Dustin Johnson went on his run in the final round.”
Where Koepka has been renowned for his consistency, McIlroy has had a tendency to blow hot and cold: from missing the cut at his last three US Opens, to Sunday’s blistering final round of 61 at Hamilton, Ontario, which left Koepka and Johnson looking like mere also-rans.
The key for McIlroy is to be playing with confidence, and his trademark swagger was back in abundance two days ago.
“This is what I can do,” McIlroy said of his final round. “It was nice to get back that feeling. This week, I was free.
"I trusted myself 100 per cent and I hit the shots when I needed to and this gives me more confidence, because I played the way I did.”
But winning in Canada does not necessarily suggest that McIlroy will be troubling the leaders in California, as Wallace can attest to.
“Golf’s an incredibly humbling game,” he said. “After my first win in 2018, I had three weeks off, came back to play and missed the cut. I went from my biggest high to my biggest low of last year in a few weeks.”
Sky Sports pundit Paul McGinley argued that Pebble Beach does not play to McIlroy’s strengths: a course where he would be hard pushed to go on one of his swashbuckling runs when needing to grind it out. As McGinley said: “Historically, he’s never played well on really tough golf courses.”
But there is also the fact that McIlroy has not had many dud days this season and, where once consistency was a struggle, he now appears to be the model of it.
As well as two tournament wins in 2019 — he also won the Players’ Championship in March — his other results read second, fourth (twice), fifth, sixth, eighth (twice) and ninth.
He has missed the cut only once, while his worst four-day finish was in being placed 21st at The Masters.
Canada also broke the shackles of an unwanted statistic. The last seven times McIlroy had led going into the final round, he failed to convert it into a win. No wonder he arrived at Pebble Beach looking so relaxed and happy.
“The margins are just so fine and so small that I never get too carried away when I’m playing good, and I never get too carried away when I’m playing badly,” he said. “Both of those instances are not far away from each other.”
How dearly McIlroy would love to still be riding the crest of a wave at this famous old Links course come Sunday.