Rory McIlroy continued what has been a bit of a notorious run of great (but not great enough) play to open 2021. With a third-place finish at the Abu Dhabi Championship on Sunday, McIlroy has now finished in the top five of his first event to start a new year in 12 of the last 13 years. That run includes nine (!) top-five finishes at the Abu Dhabi Championship (eight of them within the top three) and another handful elsewhere around the globe.
McIlroy shot a closing 72 on Sunday as he played in the final pairing with eventual winner Tyrrell Hatton, who shot 66 for his fourth win since November 2019. It was McIlroy’s second 72 in three days after opening with a 64 and probably felt like a missed opportunity even though Hatton played tremendously. McIlroy even opened with two birdies in his first three holes before playing the last 15 in 2 over.
“I don’t feel like I played great this week,” said McIlroy after his round. “Felt like I was managing my game a bit. Nice to get a competitive week under my belt and see where my game is and what I need to do to keep on improving. Hopefully I’ll get on the plane tonight and head over to Torrey Pines and tee it up there next week.”
McIlroy is scheduled to play in the Farmers Insurance Open with most of the biggest names in the sport in what amounts to an opening day of sorts on the PGA Tour and certainly the biggest event of the year to date. While McIlroy said he worked hard on his game over the holidays (it showed with that 64 on Thursday), it wasn’t quite as fully formed over the last three days as it appeared early on in the week. He played the first 18 holes in 8 under and the last 54 in just 5 under.
“I thought, for the most part of the week, my short game and my putting was good,” he said. “I scrambled well, had some pretty good approach shots, especially last night coming down the last few holes. I thought there was parts of rounds where I got the driver going, even the last few holes this evening there I got the driver going a little bit.
“But still, sometimes I’ll have a few holes where it’s like that and there’s a few holes where it sort of gets away from me. So a little more consistency and being able to replicate the good ones hole after hole and then day after day until you sort of put four rounds together.”
Regardless, McIlroy is trending in the right direction after some fairly mediocre play last summer. He has four top 10s in his last six events (two at major championships) and goes into Farmers (where he opened 2020 with one of those top fives) with a bit of momentum. He’ll try and end a different streak there. Last year was just the second since 2009 in which McIlroy has not won a single event worldwide. If Abu Dhabi was any foreshadowing, that is not going to be replicated again in 2021.