Rory McIlroy believes he showed “a little more versatility” in his game as he launched his 2019 campaign with a top-five finish on his debut in the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
Having opened with rounds of 69-68-68 to find himself in the final group on the last day at Kapalua, the Northern Irishman was a touch disappointed to sign off with a one-under-par 72 in the event for 2018 winners on the US circuit.
That left him in joint-fourth position but eight shots behind the winner, Xander Schauffele, after the 25-year-old American covered his final 16 holes in 12-under-par to tie the course record with a closing 62 as he claimed a dramatic victory.
However, McIlroy was encouraged by his overall display at the start of a year which is set to see him concentrate on the PGA Tour, believing that will give him the best possible chance to add to his four majors, the last of which was delivered in August 2014.
“It was nice to get a start in this early and see where my game’s at and definitely something to build and improve on,” he said. “I put a new driver, a new ball and a new putter in the bag and they all felt really good. I felt like I hit good putts, just couldn’t get them to go in. But the driver performed really well and the ball was great.
“I think this week I showed a little more versatility in my game. I was hitting different shots, left to right, right to left, high to low - some things I wasn’t maybe quite as comfortable doing last year. So overall it’s been a positive week even though I wish I would have played a little better.
“I’m going to go home and reflect on what was good and what maybe wasn’t so good, work on a few things and come back out having learned a little more about my game than I knew coming into this week.”
Asked if he felt that the work he’d put in on his game over the winter could pay off for the rest of the year, the 29-year-old added: “I think so. There’s four weeks of the year you really want to play well, but there’s obviously other weeks of the year you want to play well, too, and it’s just about building towards the bulk of the season.
“I’m going to go home and sort of reassess where I’m at. I’ll probably play once before LA (the Genesis Open in the middle of next month, but I sort of haven’t made my mind up yet.”
Three behind playing partner Gary Woodland heading into the final round, McIlroy birdied the third and fifth but then covered the remaining 13 holes in over-over.
“I could have shot a better score, but I did what I wanted to do,” he said. “I gave myself plenty of chances, I hit most of the fairways, I hit most of the greens, just couldn’t get the ball to drop.
“My attitude was much better today. I didn’t press at all, I was very patient. It’s just something I’m going to have to persist in, just keep putting myself in these positions and, honestly, I don’t think anyone could have beaten Xander today.”
Five off the pace at the start, Schauffele, pictured left, looked to have little chance of tasting victory after opening the fourth round at Kapalua with a bogey. However, the American then carded two eagles and eight birdies as he pipped Woodland (68) by a shot.
“All of my wins have been from behind. This was in sort of dramatic fashion and it turned into a birdie fest coming down the stretch,” said Schauffele as he savoured a fourth PGA Topur triumph and one that lifted him to world No 6.
“These are all stepping stones in the right direction and I think the end goal is for me to be able to go wire-to-wire and obviously a major would be nice but go wire-to-wire and show myself that I’ve got the nerve to do it.”
Despite not playing in the event, Justin Rose reclaimed the world No 1 spot from Brooks Koepka after he ended up 24th in the 33-player field. Open champion Francesco Molinari finished joint-27th after failing to break 70.