In 2014, Rory McIlroy won his fourth major title, capturing the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club with a final round 68. He was just 25 years old. The only other golfers to win three legs of the career Grand Slam at such a young age were Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. It felt, at the time, like the torch had truly been passed to the next generational player. He was just entering his prime, and as he raised the Wanamaker Trophy in the waning August light of Kentucky, anything seemed possible. He might not be the next Nicklaus or Woods, but he had a real chance to go down as one of the greatest players in history.

Even McIlroy seemed to understand it.

“I think I've got to take it one small step at a time. I think the two next realistic goals are the career Grand Slam, and trying to become the most successful European player ever. So Nick Faldo, most successful European ever in the modern era‑‑ Nick Faldo has six. Seve has five. Obviously the career Grand Slam coming up at Augusta in eight months time or whatever it is, they are the next goals. And hopefully, when I achieve those, I can start to think about other things.”

If anyone had declared in 2014 that McIlroy would play the next decade without winning another major, they likely would have been laughed at. It would have seemed preposterous. You would have assumed he’d been plagued by injuries, or that his personal life had fallen apart. But here we are, a decade later, and McIlroy is 0-37 in majors since the 2014 PGA. His personal life has been relatively stable, his body relatively healthy. The career Grand Slam, which once felt like a matter of time, now seems more like a burden than a blessing.

He remains one of the game’s best players, and is the only golfer from 2014 ranked in the Top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings who is still there. But it has been a decade of subtle heartbreaks and disappointments in major championships. Thirty seven majors is a career for many golfers. It represents, at best guess, 74 flights, 111 practice rounds, 259 nights in a hotel, 518 trips to and from the golf course, and at least 777 meals. In the midst of that, McIlroy has deployed a half-dozen approaches in an attempt to break his streak, including but not limited to: meditation, juggling, vulnerability, overconfidence, aggression and indifference. He has sought out different coaches, changed equipment, fired his old caddie and hired a new caddie. He has run out of ways to describe how much it would mean to finally break through.

“Obviously getting my hands on a fifth major has taken quite a while, but I'm more confident than ever that I'm right there, that I'm as close as I've ever been,” McIlroy said Tuesday from Pinehurst.

Before McIlroy tees it up this Thursday in his 65th major as a professional, it felt relevant to look back on McIlroy’s lost decade, if only to see what patterns emerge.

There have been near-misses in majors, certainly, but fewer than you might remember.

It’s the volatility that best tells his story.


Masters — It’s McIlroy’s first chance to win the career Grand Slam, and the hype could scarcely be bigger. He’s also coming off a Ryder Cup performance where he destroyed Rickie Fowler in singles, starting the match 6-under through six holes. To close out the prior year, he won two consecutive majors, and it feels to many like he’s about to dominate the sport. In a cover story for Golf Digest, McIlroy reflects on his break up with fiancée Caroline Wozniacki, and says the turbulence in his personal life made him rededicate himself to golf.

"After [the breakup], I thought, What else do I have in my life?" he told Golf Digest’s Jaime Diaz. "I have family and friends, but they're always going to be there. What else? That's when I decided, You know what, I'm just going to immerse myself in golf for a while. I spent more time at it, thought about it more, spent more time at the range and at the gym. Because that's all I had, and that's all I wanted to do."

He is still wrestling with fame at age 25, but learning to embrace what feels like to be dubbed The Chosen One of his generation.

"Until just a few years ago, I don't want to say I felt guilty for being successful because I had this ability given to me, but it was sort of like, 'Why me?' " he says. "Because I felt like it's a very selfish thing to be a winner, a very selfish trait. Which is what you sort of need in golf. And I guess it just took me a while to be comfortable with that, just because of the personality I have. I realized that if I want to succeed in golf, which I do, I need to have it. What helped was realizing how much people like winners, how people gravitate to them. So if other people are happy for me winning, then why can I not be?"

McIlroy opens with 71-71 and finds himself 12 shots behind eventual winner Jordan Spieth. Shooting 68-66 on the weekend when he’s out of contention offers some solace, but he leaves with positive feelings about Augusta.

“It’s just a matter of putting it all together,” McIlroy says.

U.S. Open (Chambers Bay) — “Do I feel like the best player in the world? Yes,’’ McIlroy says in his pre-tournament press conference at Chambers Bay. “I think when LeBron talks about that, that’s not confidence, that’s a fact when you look at how he’s carried his team in these Finals. If you look at the numbers, you can really see he is the best player in the world.

“And for me, I feel the same way when I look at the World Rankings and I see my name up at the top. If you look back at the last four or five years, I guess I’ve won more majors [four] than anyone else in that time period.’’

Despite great driving and ball-striking — one of his best ever, McIlroy says — he gets off to an uninspired start, 72-72, and again watches Spieth jump out to a big lead. But on the weekend, something finally clicks. He begins Sunday +4, but makes six birdies and no bogeys through 13 holes. He climbs to within three shots of the lead at one point. But a missed birdie putt on 14 and a bogey on 15 ruins any chance of a comeback.

“Thank God I’ve got one of these,” he tells caddie J.P. Fitzgerald during the tournament, a reference to his 2011 U.S. Open win.

Spieth wins his second consecutive major.

Open Championship (St. Andrews) — There is considerable hype for Rory in the lead-up to the Open, to be held at The Old Course, a track where he holds the course record. (He shot a 63 during the first round of The Open in 2010.) But McIlroy stuns the golf world the week before the Open by announcing on Instagram he’s ruptured a ligament in his left ankle playing soccer with his friends and will have to miss the championship.

“I thought I broke it. Because as soon as I went over on it, I heard like a snap,” McIlroy says.

He’s disappointed but vows to keep playing soccer.

"Anytime I go back home, one of the things that I regularly do with my friends is to play football,'' McIlroy said. "That was like the fourth or fifth time in a 10-day period where I had played football. I enjoy it. We all enjoy it. And it's unfortunate that it happened.”

Zach Johnson wins the Open in a playoff against Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman.

PGA (Whistling Straits) — McIlroy returns for the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits after seven weeks off, but he’s not in any kind of form to compete. He’s plagued by another slow start, opening 71-71 before two good rounds over the weekend allowed him to finish T-17.

Jason Day outduels Spieth for his first major title.

Then, Spieth dethroned McIlroy as the No. 1 player in the world. "I think it's a lost year already, just because I didn't win a major," said McIlroy, summing up his year at the Tour Championship.


Masters — In his second attempt at winning the career Grand Slam, McIlroy decides to steer clear of Augusta prior to the tournament, not visiting in the spring or in the week ahead of the Masters.

“I made the decision not to come up early this time,” said McIlroy. “The course doesn’t change year-to-year unless there is a couple of subtle things they do with some of the green complexes. But the course we saw last year is pretty much the same as the course we are seeing this year. I really feel like I play my best golf when I’m more relaxed and when I’m having fun out there and not when I’m overdoing it or over-thinking it.”

Unlike 2015, McIlroy is in contention going into the weekend, opening with 70-71, good enough for solo 2nd, trailing Jordan Spieth by one stroke. The hype for the Saturday pairing of McIlroy and Spieth is considerable, and it feels like the beginning of golf’s next great rivalry. But McIlroy is flummoxed by high winds and tough conditions on Saturday, shooting 77. He fails to make a birdie, the first time that’s happened in 81 rounds in a major.

Spieth, McIlroy’s playing partner, shoots 73 despite giving up 30-40 yards to McIlroy off the tee at times.

“I turned around after 15, I said, how the hell is [Spieth] 2‑under par today?” McIlroy said. “But it's his most impressive asset, and as much as it could be annoying to his competitors, it's very, very impressive.”

McIlroy finishes T-10 after a 71 on Sunday, six shots behind winner Danny Willett.

U.S. Open (Oakmont Country Club) — McIlroy enters Oakmont as one of the pre-tournament favorites, having won the Irish Open and finished 4th at the Memorial the week prior, but he shoots 77 in the opening round. Trying to play conservatively off the tee, he misses several fairways with irons. It’s his worst round in the U.S. Open since 2012 at Olympic Club. It leads to his first missed cut in a major in three years.

He does, however, get involved in the championship from his couch. When the USGA informs Dustin Johnson he “might” be penalized after his round for causing his ball to move on the 12th green, McIlroy leads an avalanche of criticism on Twitter, firing off several barbs at the USGA.

When Johnson hit his approach to three feet on the 18th hole, rendering any potential penalty irrelevant, McIlroy let one tweet fly.

Open Championship (Royal Troon) — McIlroy confesses that he’s never played Royal Troon prior to this week, but doesn’t see it as a big disadvantage — despite making an 8 on The Postage Stamp in a practice round. He’s just happy to be playing in The Open again, having missed it the year prior. Asked if he thinks Spieth, Day, Dustin Johnson and himself are the game’s Big Four, McIlroy points out how far those three have to go just to accomplish what he already has.

“I've got four major championships, and I'd love to add to that tally, just as those guys would love to add to their one or two majors that they have and just keep going,” he says.

McIlroy finished T-5, but never comes close to contending. Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson pull away from the field, and Stenson wins by three strokes, an astonishing 14 shots better than third-place finisher J.B. Holmes.

PGA (Baltusrol) — In his pre-tournament press conference at Baltusrol, McIlroy is asked to assess his year so far.

"As for a grade, I'd say like a B- maybe. I could change that into an A+ on Sunday. There's a lot of golf left, last major of the year, and I want to give it my all to get in the mix and try to win another one of these things before I have to wait another eight months to try to get another opportunity at Augusta next year."

In his opening round, McIlroy shoots a miserable 74, failing to make a birdie. He follows it up with a 69, but misses the cut. Putting woes are becoming a reoccurring issue.

“I’m happy with my game from tee to green, and I’m driving the ball as well as I ever have. It’s when I get on the greens that it’s a different story. I’m struggling. And, yeah … it’s hard.”


Masters — In his third attempt at winning the career Grand Slam, McIlroy reveals that he’s changed his approach leading up to the Masters. Two weeks prior to the tournament, he came to Augusta National and played 99 holes of prep.

“I think it's been a relatively quiet buildup to the Masters for me, which has been quite nice,” McIlroy says. “It's made a bit of a change from the last couple of years, especially '15, coming off the back of two major wins in a row and going for the career Grand Slam. … I've realized that the more I can get comfortable with this golf course, and the club as a whole; the more I can get comfortable in the environment and the surroundings, the better.”

He also suggests he’s more comfortable in his own skin now than he’s ever been.

“Whenever you're in your early 20s, I feel like you're still searching for who you are,” McIlroy said. “Everyone goes through that awkward stage in their lives where, not that they are lost but what is important to you, what's not important to you. You figure out that some things that are important to you aren't important to others and vice versa. So you can't please everyone. I think the more I became comfortable in my own skin and my own convictions, that's when I realized, I'll just have to live my life the way I do, and some people will like that and some people don't. Those people are the ones that don't really matter to me. And, you know, the ones that do, they support me 100 percent and that's great.”

Another slow start dooms McIlroy’s chances, as he goes 72-73-71-69 and finishes six shots behind Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, who end up in a playoff.

McIlroy is asked about his impending marriage to Erica Stoll, who he met while she was working for the PGA of America.

“I'm excited,” he says. “It's a great time in my life. It would have been nice to walk down the aisle in a green jacket.”

U.S. Open (Erin Hills) — McIlroy enters the U.S. Open nursing a rib injury that’s been bugging him throughout the year, but he doesn’t believe it will stop him from contending. Asked what he thinks about the fact that the USGA is cutting down some of the fescue at Erin Hills in response to player criticism, McIlroy scoffs.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” he says. “You've got 156 of the best players in the world here, if we can't hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home. These are the widest fairways we've ever played in a U.S. Open.”

Unfortunately, McIlroy is one of those players packing his bags. He goes 78-71 and misses the cut.

Brooks Koepka, the player who will eventually pass McIlroy in total major victories, wins his first.

Open Championship (Royal Birkdale) — McIlroy is no longer considered one of the favorites coming into Royal Birkdale, having missed the cut at both the Irish Open and Scottish Open. Pre-tournament odds list him at 20-1.

“If I saw my form of the last couple weeks, I’d say that’s probably a fair price,” McIlroy says. “But all it takes is one week. Good time to back me, I think.”

The newly-married McIlroy says a win isn’t going to change his life.

“I want to win this week. I don't need to win,” he says. “A second Open Championship isn't going to change my life. But I want to win.”

It looks like McIlroy’s Open Championship is DOA as he plays the first five holes in 5-over, but walking off the 6th hole, his caddie J.P. Fitzgerald unloads on him for the first time in their relationship, lashing out at what he sees as Rory’s indifference.

“You’re Rory McIlroy, what the fuck are you doing?” Fitzgerald says.

The pep talk lights a fire in the Ulsterman, as he proceeds to birdie four holes on the back nine, clawing his way back into the championship. On Sunday, he pulls to within four of Jordan Speith at one point, but he can’t quite climb into real contention. He finishes T-4 by shooting 69-67 over the weekend.

“These things happen,” McIlroy says. “You look at Jack Nicklaus, he went through a stretch where he didn't win a major in three years. I'm not comparing myself to Jack. It's hard to win them. It's very hard. It's the reason especially in this generation, excluding Tiger, no one's got above five. So it's tough to win them. We have 20- or 30-year window of where we can. And I got off to a great start in my career. But, as I said, I've still got 15, 20 more years to add to that tally. But, yeah, look, I feel like three years has been too long. But at the same time I'm not going to rush it, I'm not going to stay impatient. I'm going to play my game. And hopefully my chance arrives at some point and I'm able to take it.”

PGA (Quail Hollow) — After the Open Championship, McIlroy says he and Fitzgerald won’t be working together going forward.

“It was on my mind for a while,” he says. “I don't know. It's one of those things. I guess I was trying to accomplish a more like clutter-free mindset on the golf course. Try to take a little bit more responsibility. I feel like if I make a decision, that's mine and I own it. And even if it's good or bad, I can accept that myself and I alluded to it last week, as well. I was getting very hard on JP and probably shouldn't have been. But it was more, I just wanted to, I just didn't want to have that frustration on the golf course. So that's really what I was trying to accomplish.”

McIlroy’s childhood friend, Harry Diamond, is working for him on what he assumes will be a temporary basis. The PGA Championship at Quail Hollow will be their first major together. McIlroy says he’s still thinking about who might caddie for him full-time going forward.

“We've been inundated with people wanting to have a chance to carry the bag,” McIlroy says. “But I can't really think about that until next week, until I have a week off, and then I can reassess how these couple of weeks have went with Harry on the bag.”

Despite a tremendous track record of success at Quail Hollow, McIlroy doesn’t break par for the first three rounds. A 69 on Sunday helps him finish in 22nd place, but another year has come and gone without winning a major.

“It's tough,” he says. “I want to get back into that winner's circle. You don't want to be teeing off at 9:45 on the final rounds of a major on a Sunday. That is not where you want to be.”

Justin Thomas, meanwhile, wins his first major, out-dueling Hideki Matsuyama and Oosthuizen.

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Masters — McIlroy wins the Arnold Palmer Invitational in the build-up to the Masters — his first win since 2016 — and says he feels good about his game. He feels like he’s finally getting comfortable at Augusta, and admits that in 2015, he let the hype of the career Grand Slam get in his head.

“I'm an avid fan of the history of the game, and I know a win here and what that would mean and where that would put me in history alongside some of the greatest that have ever played this game, and that would mean an awful lot to me,” McIlroy says. “But I have to try and clear my head of that come Thursday morning and go out and play good golf, hit good golf shots, have good course management, hole putts.”

For the first time in several years, McIlroy gets off to a good start at Augusta, shooting a first-round 69. He follows it up with a 71, but a 65 on Saturday (his best round at Augusta since 2011) gets him into the final pairing with Patrick Reed. He trails by three, but he knows this is his best chance to win a major since 2014.

“Patrick is going for his first and I'm going for something else,” McIlroy says. “It's going to be good fun.”

Despite considerable crowd support, McIlroy insists he’s the underdog going into Sunday.

“I feel like all the pressure is on him,” McIlroy says. “He's got to go out and protect that, and he's got a few guys chasing him that are pretty big‑time players. He's got that to deal with and sleep on tonight. I feel like I can go out there and play like I've got nothing to lose. If I can do that, I feel like I'll be okay.”

Unfortunately for McIlroy, he doesn’t play like he has nothing to lose on Sunday. Even though Reed bogeys the 1st hole and McIlroy birdies the 2nd hole, a missed eagle putt on No. 2 seems to let all the air out of McIlroy. He hits only eight greens on the day. Only four players in the field shoot a worse score than his 74.

“It wasn't as if nerves got to me,” McIlroy says. “I just didn't quite have it.”

Reed wins his first major, holding off Rickie Fowler.

U.S. Open (Shinnecock Country Club) — McIlroy comes into Shinnecock with high hopes of winning, but in the first round, he plays perhaps his worst round at a major since his Sunday collapse at Augusta in 2011, firing an 80 that includes seven bogeys and three double bogeys. A second round 70 is serviceable but not enough to make the cut, sending him home.

“I felt like my game was good coming in here,” McIlroy said. “I think I was just blown away by the wind yesterday. That was the thing. I mean, I haven't played in wind like that for quite a long time.”

It’s his third straight missed cut in the U.S. Open.

Open Championship (Carnoustie) — Carnoustie marks four years since McIlroy won his last major, and the press is starting to wonder if the pressure is getting to him. Does he need another major to cement his legacy?

“At this point I'm not trying to cement anything,” McIlroy says. “Obviously, I've had a decent career up until this point, and I've got a lot of time left to add to major tally or just tournaments won or whatever it is. It's hard to win any week on Tour, let alone the four big ones that we get a year. Look, I was on a nice run there from 2011 to 2014. I haven't won one since, but I'm trying. I'm trying my best every time I tee it up, and it just hasn't happened. You know, I'll give it a good go this week.”

McIlroy climbs into contention, opening with two straight rounds of 69. A star-studded leaderboard has everyone buzzing, particularly with Tiger Woods back in contention for the first time in several years. Woods even leads at one point on Sunday before fading. In the final round, McIlroy eagles the 14th hole to tie for the lead, and suddenly his best chance to win a major since 2014 is staring him in the face. But he can’t muster any more birdies down the stretch and Francesco Molinari wins by two strokes. McIlroy finishes T-2.

“I have no regrets,” McIlroy says. “I played the way I wanted to play this week. It gives me a lot of encouragement going into the final major of the year. I just ran out of holes.”

PGA (Bellerive) — With the chance to hit driver on most of the holes, Bellerive looks like it should be the perfect set up for McIlroy’s game. In the pre-tournament press conference, he’s once again asked if not winning majors is testing his patience.

“Yes and no,” McIlroy says. “I mean, even from 2014 I've given myself some half chances at Majors. I think my best chance since Valhalla was at The Open at Carnoustie, but in golf you just have to be an eternal optimist. You have to make the most of everything you have to see the positives and just move on and forget about it and that's what I've tried to do this year is the times where I haven't won and I haven't played my best, I try to learn from it and I move on. There's no point in reflecting on it too much or dwelling on it.”

Despite the optimism, McIlroy never gets anything going early, opening with a 70, six shots back of first round leader Gary Woodland. A weekend stuck in neutral (+1) leads to one of McIlroy’s most forgettable majors. He finishes T-50, 14 shots worse than Brooks Koepka.

Before he leaves St. Louis, McIlroy is asked: How will he remember this major season?

“Probably won't,” McIlroy says. “I mean, I don't think there was anything all that memorable about it.”


Masters — McIlroy enters the 2019 Masters as a strong favorite based on some of his best form in years. In eight starts, he’s finished in the top 10 seven times and won The Players in the build up to Augusta. In terms of true strokes gained, he’s actually playing better in 2018 (+2.8 than he was in 2014 (+2.56). FiveThirtyEight declares this year’s Masters is “McIlroy’s to lose.”

McIlroy, however, is quick to emphasize that he’s not going to be defined by his golf.

“I think the big thing is: I am not my score; I am not my results,” he says.

He reveals that he’s been dabbling in meditation over the last year.

“I guess I've dabbled in it over the years and I've needed it from time to time,” McIlroy says. “But I never fully immersed myself in it. It’s searching until you find what resonates with you. Maybe what resonates with me isn’t going to resonate with someone else, but I found what I feel is the best path forward for me and I've committed to it, and you know, it's still so early in the process. So very early stages, but I just felt for me to live a healthier life and not just with my career, but away from the golf course, as well. I needed some perspective and I needed to separate the sort of two lives that I have.”

McIlroy makes five birdies in his opening round, but also makes six bogeys, another poor opening round (73) that essentially puts him in chase mode the rest of the tournament. He finishes T-21, and is nothing but a footnote in one of history’s most memorable majors as Tiger Woods wins a 5th green jacket.

“It seems like you guys are more disappointed than I am,” McIlroy tells the press after his Sunday round. “I'm good.”

PGA (Bethpage Black) — McIlroy says he’s a big fan of the PGA Championship moving to May, and that he likes Bethpage Black as a golf course. He suspects it might even benefit his major chase.

“I've had a pretty good record in May,” he says.

McIlroy recently turned 30, which he’s still trying to wrap his head around.

“I definitely don't feel 30,” he says. “I mean, even just at the start of this press conference, this is my 11th PGA Championship. It's like, where did those go?”

McIlroy will ultimately finish T-8, but it’s hardly memorable. After two rounds, he trails Koepka by 15 shots. Koepka stumbles a bit down the stretch, but he holds on to win his fourth major title, tying McIlroy’s career total.

“I just don't understand why he doesn't do it more often,” McIlroy says. “That's my thing. He obviously gets into these mindsets of the majors, and he really goes and gets into a different sort of state. But it's what he's capable of, obviously. It's awesome.”

U.S. Open (Pebble Beach) — The week before the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, McIlroy wins the Canadian Open, firing a sizzling 61 in the final round, but most of the focus is still on his major championship drought. The press wants to know: What would it mean to win a major?

“Yeah, liberating, satisfying, I mean, there's a lot of different words you could use to describe what it would feel like,” McIlroy says. “At the [U.S. Open] Champions reunion last night — which was a lot of fun — I had a chat with Johnny Miller, and Johnny said, ‘You look at the history of major championships, that first round is so important.’ I said, I know. My first rounds at Augusta and Bethpage this year just sort of put me a little bit behind the eight ball. And it's hard to catch up. Especially, you know, major championships are played on the toughest courses, and you start to chase on those really tough courses, it's hard to do that. I think that's sort of what's held me back a little bit.”

Right on cue, McIlroy opens with a 68-69, and is only four shots back of Gary Woodland going into the weekend. But the air slowly leaks from his balloon over the weekend. A 70-72 is good enough for another Top 10 finish in a major, but finishing eight shots behind Woodland says it all.

Open Championship (Royal Portrush) — It’s arguably the most anticipated major of McIlroy’s career considering he grew up in Holywood, a little more than an hour away, and he owns the course record, having shot 61 as a teenager. On top of that, McIlroy is inundated with questions about the socio-political impact of the Open returning to Northern Ireland for the first time in 68 years.

“I think no matter what happens this week, if I win or whoever else wins, having The Open back in this country is a massive thing for golf,” McIlroy says. “And I think as well it will be a massive thing for the country. Sport has an unbelievable ability to bring people together. We all know that this country sometimes needs that.”

The weight of those expectations and hopes seem to overwhelm McIlroy during his first round. His first swing of the Open, a 2-iron off the tee, sailed left and landed out of bounds. He eventually made an 8. He also made two double bogeys late in his round and signed for a 79, a disaster of a start.

McIlroy was adamant that playing at home, and everything that came with it, wasn’t a factor in his nerves.

“I'm pretty truthful with you guys,” he says. “Look, I was nervous on the first tee. But not nervous because of that. Nervous because it's an Open Championship. I usually get nervous on the first tee anyway, regardless of where it is. So maybe a little more so today than other places. But I don't think it was that.”

His Friday round at Portrush, however, unfolds as one of the most emotional rounds of his career. McIlroy summons something special, pouring his heart into every shot as he tries to make the cut. He shoots 65, and is in tears after getting a standing ovation coming up the 18th hole.

“The last week has been a real sort of … it's been an eye-opener for me,” McIlroy says. “Sometimes you're so far away and you forget about all the people that are cheering you on back home. And then you come and play in front of them, it definitely hit me like a ton of bricks today.”

He misses the cut by a single shot, but McIlroy says his Friday round will go down as one of the best memories of his entire career.


PGA (Harding Park) — With all of the majors postponed several months because of COVID, the first major of the year will be the PGA Championship at Harding Park, the same course where McIlroy won the Match Play in 2015. It will be the first major without fans in attendance.

“Look, I'm not a public health expert, and I won't pretend to be up here,” McIlroy says when asked when fans might return. “I guess whenever they say that it's safe to do so. I feel like I'm a rule follower and I'll play by the rules, and so long as they tell us that it's then safe.”

Does it bother him that he hasn’t won a 5th major championship?

“It doesn't keep me up at night and I don't think about it every day, but when I play these major championships, it's something that I'm obviously reminded of,” McIlroy says. “Yeah, look, I would have liked to have won a couple more majors in that time frame, and I feel like I've had a couple of decent chances and I just haven't got the job done.”

McIlroy doesn’t play poorly, but he is essentially left in the dust on the weekend, trailing Dustin Johnson by nine shots going into Sunday. Collin Morikawa wins his first major, out-dueling Paul Casey and Johnson for the win. Scottie Scheffler, a PGA Tour rookie, finishes T-4.

McIlroy is asked, once again, to explain why he can’t seem to break through in majors.

“I don't know,” he says, a weary smile on his face. “Maybe I'm just not as good as I used to be."

U.S. Open (Winged Foot) — Winged Foot represents the first major for McIlroy since he became a father. His daughter, Poppy, was born in August, just a few weeks after the PGA Championship.

“Everyone is good, thankfully,” McIlroy says. “Just grateful that everything is good at home, and it allows me to come up here and focus on what I'm supposed to do. I actually changed the first two diapers, so I'm very proud of that. But yeah, I've got my hands dirty; put it that way.”

Unlike some of his recent majors, McIlroy gets off to a strong start, shooting a first-round 67. But his championship hopes disappear the following day when he follows it up with a 76. He finishes T-8 — his 12th top ten at a major since 2014 — but 12 strokes behind Bryson DeChambeau, who wins his first major.

“I don't really know what to say because that's just the complete opposite of what you think a U.S. Open champion does,” McIlroy said, when DeChambeau had hit only 4 of his last 21 fairways. “Look, he's found a way to do it. Whether that's good or bad for the game, I don't know, but it's just — it's not the way I saw this golf course being played or this tournament being played. It's kind of hard to really wrap my head around it.”

Masters — With the Open Championship canceled because of COVID, the Masters will serve as the year’s final major. The unusual schedule has many predicting that McIlroy has been given an unexpected blessing in his pursuit of the career Grand Slam. For the first (and only) time, he won’t have to spend eight months waiting for the Masters to arrive.

Phil Mickelson, who didn’t win a major until he was 33 years old, is asked if there is any advice he might have for McIlroy as he tries to snap his major-less streak.

“First of all, there's not much advice I can give him,” Mickelson says. “The guy is as complete a player as there comes, as there is, as well as smart, knowledgeable and works hard. So he'll win and complete the Grand Slam. He's too great a player not to. There's nothing that I can really say to help him. He's had a lot of great opportunities, and he's going to continue to do so. He's playing beautifully. I would be shocked if he wasn't in contention with a great chance on Sunday.”

In his pre-tournament press conference, McIlroy admits he’s been trying to add speed to his swing during the last month. (It will be months before he will admit it, but he’ll chalk the pursuit of it up to a bruised ego after watching DeChambeau tear apart Winged Foot.) As his session is coming to a close, one reporter asks where McIlroy thinks his inner grit comes from.

“I think my grit came from my failures, and I don't have to look any further than this place in 2011,” he says. “I learnt a lot from that day. I learnt a lot in terms of what I needed to be and what I didn't need to be. I think failure, you know, I try to say this to young guys that are coming through. You can't be afraid of it. You have to embrace the fact that you are going to fail at things, but you should learn from them and then when you go again, you should be better.”

McIlroy’s swing, however, looks completely out of sorts during the second half of his first round, which gets split between Thursday and Friday because of an electrical storm. He plays the first nine in even par, but then plays the back 3-over to finish with a 75.

“I honestly have been playing so good coming in here, and then I go into the first round and I shoot 75, and I’m like, where the hell did that come from?” McIlroy says.

Augusta National member Jimmy Dunne gives McIlroy a pep talk when he’s on his way to the range between rounds, and it seems to work. McIlroy plays the next three rounds in 14-under par (66-67-69). But as often is the case at the Masters for him, it’s too little, too late.

Dustin Johnson — McIlroy’s playing partner for the first two rounds — wins with the lowest score (20-under) in Masters history.


Masters — A frustrating start to the season, one that includes missing the cut at The Players, has McIlroy searching coming into the Masters. He confirms a report that he’s been working with swing coach Pete Cowen since the Match Play event in Austin, a surprise considering he’s only worked with Michael Bannon since he was a teenager. He says this is the beginning of a journey, and that his swing is in transition.

“It's a very tough choice,” McIlroy says. “But as I said a couple weeks ago in Austin, it's not as if that relationship has changed in any way. You know, Michael is still a part of the team. You know, it's just an extra set of eyes to see a few things. I just felt bringing Pete in can only help.”

It doesn’t, however, help McIlroy in time for the Masters. He misses the cut for just the second time in his career, shooting 76-74.

PGA (Ocean Course at Kiawah) — A return to the course where McIlroy won his second major in dominating fashion creates plenty of buzz, even as McIlroy tries to downplay it in the lead-up to the tournament. Not only has the course changed in subtle ways, he’s changed in significant ways.

“A lot has changed,” he says. “I'm in a completely different place in my life. Yeah, everything has changed, really. Yeah, I feel like a completely different person. I think a lot has changed for the better. I'm standing up here probably more confident in myself, happier with where I am in my life, and yeah, just sort of enjoying everything, enjoying life, enjoying everything a bit more.”

Even though McIlroy won the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow in his last start before the PGA, he looks lost at Kiawah, failing to break par in any of his four rounds and finishing T-49.

Phil Mickelson becomes the oldest major champion in history, out-dueling Brooks Koepka to win his sixth major title.

“I don't know what 20 years down the line is going to look like for me, but hopefully I'm in Phil's position and still contending in these things,” McIlroy says.

U.S. Open (Torrey Pines) — The questions about why McIlroy hasn’t won a major in six years are getting (slightly) more pointed. On the eve of Torrey Pines, McIlroy is pressed about his uneven play in majors, and why he frequently puts himself in a hole he has to dig out of.

“Probably just putting a little too much pressure on myself, playing too carefully, being a little tentative,” McIlroy says. “I think that sort of sums it up.”

This year, however, McIlroy echoes his good starts at Pebble and Winged Foot with a 1-under 70 to start the championship. He stumbles a bit in round two with a 73, but soars into contention with a 3rd round 67.

“I'm trying to think of the last time where I really felt like I had a chance,” McIlroy says. “Carnoustie in '18 felt like I maybe had half a chance, going into the final day at Pebble in 2019. But apart from that, there's been some good finishes but never felt like I was in the thick of things. I'm just excited for the opportunity to have a chance and be in one of the final groups.”

When McIlroy birdies the 4th hole on Sunday, trickling in a 30-foot putt to get to -4 under, he’s just a shot off the lead. But he cannot maintain that position, making a bogey on 11 and a double bogey on 12. His 73 is good enough for a T-7 finish, another yellow box on his Wikipedia page, but not much else.

Jon Rahm, who started the final round a shot behind McIlroy, shoots a 67 to win his first major.

“Yes, it is disappointing that I had a chance and didn't get the job done, but considering where I've been the previous few majors, it's a big step in the right direction,” McIlroy says.

Open Championship (Royal St. George’s) — In what may go down as one of his most forgettable majors of the decade, McIlroy never sniffs contention at Royal St. George, and finishes T-46.

After the Ryder Cup in the fall, McIlroy announces that he’s parting ways with Cowen and returning to work with Bannon.


Masters — It’s his 8th attempt at winning the career Grand Slam, and McIlroy is clearly running out of ways to answer the same question about whether he feels pressure to complete the quest.

“Look, it's still very, very important,” McIlroys says. “But I don't know if I would feel like I was fulfilled if I didn't win one or whatever it is. It's less pressure than [2015].”

There are plenty of people who can’t resist predicting, however, that this will finally be his year.

“I know how these stories unfold,” says CBS’ Jim Nantz in a pre-tournament chat with the media. “Augusta just has this ability, for some reason, to tell it better than any other place. Those scripts, one year beats the next and, I mean, I have in my head and my heart [that] he’s going to win the Green Jacket one year. I mean, he’s going to have a lot more chances, but this just might be the year. This just might be the year. It’s quiet enough going in and he’s a rare talent. Maybe that’s the story this year in the end, that he completes it.”

But in a story that feels all-too-familiar, particularly at Augusta, McIlroy gets left behind early. He opens 73-73, and trails Scheffler by 10 shots going into the final round.

“Just try to move up a few more tomorrow and try to get a top ten and move on,” McIlroy says.

On Sunday, teeing off an hour before the leaders and with nothing to lose, McIlroy plays arguably his best round of his Masters’ career, making six birdies and an eagle to surge up the leaderboard. He’s never truly in contention; Scheffler leads by five strokes when McIlroy finishes. But when McIlroy holes out from the bunker on 18 for one final birdie, putting an exclamation point on a 64 and tying the lowest final round in Masters history, it feels a bit like an exorcism.

“To play as well as I did today and then to finish like this, I mean, it's just absolutely incredible,” he says. “This tournament never ceases to amaze. Yeah, that's as happy as I've ever been on a golf course right there.”

McIlroy finishes solo 2nd, his best-ever finish at The Masters.

PGA (Southern Hills) — The good vibes from Augusta seem to carry over to the PGA. McIlroy opens with a 65, and is the solo leader after Round 1. It’s the first time he’s held the solo lead at a major since 2014. McIlroy is in such a playful mood, he can’t resist cracking a joke when the PGA of America moderator asks if that’s the start he’s been looking for at majors.

“No, no, I'd rather shoot 74 and try to make the cut tomorrow,” McIlroy says.

But for whatever reason, McIlroy can’t sustain his strong play. He tumbles down the leaderboard, making a triple bogey on Saturday to essentially fall out of contention.

“Early in the week, when McIlroy opened with a sizzling 65 in the first round, it looked like he was poised to snap his eight-year drought at majors, announcing his presence with a roar. Now he seems like he has slunk back into the wilderness, a once-vicious lion who has forgotten how to hunt,” writes ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenburg.

Justin Thomas, who began the final round seven strokes behind Mito Pereira, completes the biggest final round comeback in history, winning his second PGA Championship. He shoots a final round 67, then beats Will Zalatoris in a playoff.

U.S. Open (The Country Club) — The Rory McIlroy who missed three straight cuts at the U.S. Open from 2016-18 feels like he’s been left behind for good by this point. He has become, believe it or not, one of the game’s most consistent U.S. Open performers. McIlroy opens with a first round 67, and after a second round 69, he’s just a shot off the lead shared by Collin Morikawa and Joel Dahmen.

“I'm in a good place,” McIlroy says after his second round.”I'm really happy with where my game is at, and I think that's the most important thing.”

Another weekend fade, however, dooms his chances. A Saturday 73 leaves him three strokes behind going into the final round, and McIlroy never gets closer than that. He finishes T-5, his fifth consecutive top 10 finish at the U.S. Open, but it’s of little solace.

“Another top five in a major,” McIlroy says. “I guess doesn't really mean anything.”

Matt Fitzpatrick wins his first career major, shooting a final round 68.

Open Championship (St. Andrews) — It’s the 150th playing of the Open Championship, and there are plenty of people wondering if the stars might be aligning for McIlroy to finally break his winless streak at majors. He is both the betting favorite and the emotional favorite going into the Open.

“I can't go in here thinking that this might be my time. I just have to go out and play a really good tournament,” McIlroy says. “I'm happy where everything's at, and I just can't get ahead of myself.”

For three rounds, McIlroy plays patient, at-times-brilliant golf. He opens with a 66, follows it up with a 68. On Saturday, he holes a bunker shot on the 10th hole for eagle to grab the outright lead, a shot that feels — at the time — like it might go down as the signature shot of the championship.

“I think it's appreciating the moment as well and appreciating the fact that it's unbelievably cool to have a chance to win The Open at St Andrews,” McIlroy says. “It's what dreams are made of. And I'm going to try to make a dream come true tomorrow.”

Instead, what unfolds is a slow-boiling nightmare for McIlroy. He plays conservatively throughout the day, and Cam Smith (who trailed McIlroy by four shots going into Sunday) surges into the lead with five consecutive birdies on the back nine. Smith wins his first major, shooting a final round 64.

“I got beaten by a better player this week,” McIlroy says.

McIlroy makes just two birdies on the day and finishes 3rd.

“I'm only human,” he says. “I'm not a robot. Of course you think about it, and you envision it, and you want to envision it. I was literally, my hotel room is directly opposite the big yellow board on 18 there right of the 1st. And every time I go out, I'm trying to envision McIlroy at the top name on that leaderboard and how did that feel? At the start of the day, it was at the top, but at the start of tomorrow, it won't be. You've got to let yourself dream. You've got to let yourself think about it and what it would be like, but once I was on the golf course, it was just task at hand, trying to play the best golf I possibly could.”


Masters — It’s McIlroy’s ninth attempt at the career Grand Slam, and he knows that a pattern has emerged for him at Augusta. He just can’t figure out how to start strong.

“I've always felt like I have the physical ability to win this tournament,” McIlroy says. “But it's being in the right head space to let those physical abilities shine through. It's been tentative starts, not putting my foot on the gas early enough.”

Possessing that self-awareness doesn’t help, however, when he reaches the first tee. McIlroy shoots a 72 in the first round, and a 77 in the second to miss the cut.

Rahm, meanwhile, wins his second major, outlasting Koepka.

McIlroy skips the RBC Heritage the following week to spend time with family, citing the need to attend to his emotional well-being and mental health.

“I needed a break for me,” McIlroy says.

PGA (Oak Hill) — There is talk that McIlroy might have a home-field advantage coming into his 15th PGA Championship considering his wife, Erica, is from Rochester and the McIlroys are actually members at Oak Hill. But McIlroy reveals it’s something of an honorary membership and he’s only played the course a few times. Typically loquacious and open with the media, McIlroy is curt and guarded before the tournament, answering multiple questions with one-word answers.

Asked if he ever goes back and watches his performance from Valhalla in 2014, McIlroy admits that he has, but declines to elaborate.

“Yeah, sometimes,” he says.

There was a ruthlessness about the way you were that final day, a reporter says. Are you still that way?

“I find being that way pretty exhausting in life in general, to be that ruthless,” McIlroy says. “it's not as if I can't get into that mode, but I don't feel like I need to be that way to be successful on the golf course.”

McIlroy doesn’t have any blow-ups at Oak Hill, sticking to a plan of patience. But he also doesn’t have any fireworks. He finishes 2-under par for the week, seven shots back of Koepka, who wins his 5th major. For the first time in a decade, McIlroy no longer has the most majors for a player from his generation.

In an episode of the Netflix documentary “Full Swing” that comes out in March of 2024, McIlroy is captured in the Oak Hill locker room talking to his manager Sean O’Flaherty, excoriating himself and contemplating his future.

“My technique is nowhere near as good as it used to be,” McIlroy says. “I almost feel like I want to do a complete reboot. It's the only way I feel like I'm going to break through. It feels so far away. I'm not at the stage of my life where I feel like I can do these two-week bootcamps. I feel good enough to fucking Top 10 in my head, but not good enough to win. Like pull away. Like winning fucking major championships."

U.S. Open (Los Angeles Country Club) — For the first time in career, McIlroy declines to speak formally with the media prior to a major championship, saying he’s grown weary of the sound of his own voice during the PGA Tour and LIV drama. Instead of obsessing over his pre-tournament prep, he chooses to take a more relaxed approach. His practice rounds at LACC are the first time he’s seen the course. The vibe pays off when he opens with a 65.

“I started thinking about winning this thing when I came here on Monday,” McIlroy says after his second-round 67. “No one wants me to win another major more than I do.”

McIlroy trails Wyndham Clark and Rickie Fowler by a shot going into the final round, but it’s clear early on that it’s a two-man race after Fowler bogeys three of the first seven holes. Clark, despite having one career win to that point, holds off McIlroy to win by a stroke despite making bogeys on 15 and 16.

A bogey on the 14th hole by McIlroy — when he misses the green with a wedge in his hand — is ultimately the difference. McIlroy is asked, after yet another disappointment in a major, if he feels like he’s running out of things to say, and lessons to learn.

“When I do finally win this next major, it's going to be really, really sweet,” McIlroy says. “I would go through 100 Sundays like this to get my hands on another major championship.”

Open Championship (Royal Liverpool) — The final major of the year is another opportunity for McIlroy to be reminded of his younger self with the Open revisiting Hoylake and the course where he won the Claret Jug in 2014. But McIlroy isn’t really interested in revisiting past lives.

“A little bit,” he says when asked if returning brings back fond memories. “Maybe not as much as you might think. Over the past nine years a lot has happened in my life.”

McIlroy doesn’t play a single round over par, finishes at -6 under, but it scarcely matters. Brian Harman wins his first major, nearly lapping the field (-13 under) to win by seven strokes.

It’s McIlroy’s seventh top 10 finish in the last eight majors.

“Over the last two years would I have loved to have picked one of those off that I finished up there? Absolutely,” McIlroy says. “But every time I tee it up or most times I tee it up, I'm right there. I can't sit here and be too frustrated.”


Masters — For the first time in a decade, McIlroy doesn’t feel like a clear favorite heading into the Augusta. Rahm is the defending champion, and Scheffler is the clear favorite, having emerged as the game’s best player. That doesn’t deter questions about whether or not McIlroy can win the career Grand Slam in his 10th attempt.

“No question, he'll do it at some point,” says Tiger Woods. “Rory's too talented, too good. He's going to be playing this event for a very long time. He'll get it done. It's just a matter of when.

But, yes, I think that Rory will be a great Masters champion one day, and it could be this week. You never know. I just think that just, again, the talent that he has, the way he plays game and the golf course fits his eye, it's just a matter of time.”

In an unusually brief pre-tournament presser, McIlroy, having listened to similar sentiments for a decade, responds to questions about Woods’ compliment with a weary bemusement.

“It's flattering,” McIlroy says. “It's nice to hear, in my opinion, the best player ever to play the game say something like that. So, yeah, I mean, does that mean that it's going to happen? Obviously not. But he's been around the game long enough to know that I at least have the potential to do it.”

It won’t be this year, however, as McIlroy finishes a meaningless T-22, any chance undone by a second-round 77.

Scheffler wins his second green jacket, holding off Ludvig Åberg.

PGA (Valhalla) — Prior to the PGA Championship, news breaks that McIlroy has filed for divorce from Erica — his wife of seven years — citing irreconcilable differences. O’Flaherty, his manager, says he won’t be answering any questions about his personal life, and asks the media to please respect his privacy.

“I’m ready to play this week,” he says, curtly deflecting one question about his state of mind.

He opens with a first-round 66, but a second-round 71 ends any realistic chance he has of contending. Scheffler’s arrest on Friday — when he is charged with felony assault on a police officer during a traffic incident outside Valhalla — becomes the story of the tournament. According to Nathan Hubbard of the Fairway Rollin podcast, McIlroy walked up to Scheffler on the putting green on Saturday and couldn’t resist cracking a joke.

“Pretty uneventful week, huh?” McIlroy said. “Well, you took some noise away from me so I appreciate it.”

McIlroy finishes T-12, nine shots back of Xander Schauffele, who wins his first major championship.

“The 71 on Friday was obviously not what I was looking for,” McIlroy says, echoing the theme of a decade. “Obviously put myself too far back.”

Kevin Van Valkenburg is the Editorial Director of No Laying Up

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Rory McIlroy by the numbers from 2015 to 2024 (so far):

37 total majors

Missed cuts: 7 times

Top 25s: 25 times

Top 10s: 20 times

Top 5s: 10 times

Wins: Zero