Having been his first tournament as a professional back in 2007, the 28-year-old is looking forward to this week’s British Masters at Close House in Northumberland before joining forces with his father, Gerry, in the Dunhill Links Championship in a week’s time north of the Border for what will be his final competitive outing of the year.
McIlroy will go winless for the first time since 2009 if he comes out empty-handed from those two assignments, giving him extra incentive to sign off this season with a flourish, but he already has one eye on what lies ahead after that.
In a bid to finally shake off a rib injury he’s been hampered with since January, the four-time major winner won’t play for three months and has a plan mapped out that is geared towards him being back at peak powers when he presses the “go” button at the start of next year.
“If someone had told me at The Belfry ten years ago [when he tied for 42nd behind Lee Westwood, this week’s host, in the British Masters] that you are going to do X, Y and Z in your first ten years, I would have been ecstatic, over the moon,” admitted McIlroy. “But, because of the experiences I’ve had in those ten years, and the golfer I’ve become, I feel like I can be even better the next ten years. That’s why I think these three months are going to be very important in my career going forward with all the stuff I want to put in place.
“These three months could give me the foundation to turn a great career into one of the greatest careers.”
McIlroy’s game this year has been a shadow of the form he’s produced for most of the past decade and he certainly has work to do in that respect between now and next season. His main priority, though, is regaining full fitness and no stone is being left unturned in that regard.
“I’m taking a ten-day break after the Dunhill then, on 19-20 October, I’m going to Manchester to do some testing,” he revealed.
“It’s basically a full-health MOT type of thing. I’m getting my blood done. I’m getting some food allergy testing. There’s been a couple of times this year when my joints have been inflamed and I haven’t had the energy levels, so I want to delve deeper to see where I can get better and be more disciplined. I want to use these weeks to improve my health and come out next year in a much better place than I was this year. I want to make sure that I feel as prepared as I possibly can be going into every event.”
He already knows that his eating habits need to improve, having seen his discipline slip a bit due to not being able to follow his normal gym routine due to that niggling rib injury. “My diet hasn’t been the best over the past year and a half,” he admitted. “I’ve always been interested in food and, like a dog, whatever you put in front of me, it’s going to be eaten.” His weaknesses? “Red wine, dark chocolate, burgers, fries – everything,” he replied, laughing.
McIlroy, who is joined by Masters champion Sergio Garcia in spearheading the field for what is the biggest golf event to be staged in the North-East of England, is looking forward to getting his teeth into a 2017 schedule that is likely to start at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship in January. “I’m playing a lot next year,” he declared.
“The Ryder Cup [in Paris next October] is going to be my 26th event of the year. I’m looking at playing more events next year than I have done since my rookie year, when I played 28. I like to play golf. I feel like I have missed it this year. I’ve got a wife that loves to travel. We don’t have kids yet. It’s perfect. I want to take advantage of that while I can.”
This week’s event – a first British Masters appearance for McIlroy since 2008 – was added after he failed to make the Tour Championship in the US last week, ensuring he meets the criteria for European Tour membership and doesn’t have to rely on the special exemption he secured from Keith Pelley two years ago. “I’m here because I want to play in the Ryder Cup next year,” he said.
Swede Alex Noren defends the title in an event that is probably the strongest of the season on the European Tour outside the Rolex Series, with others in the field including former US Open champion Graeme McDowell, recent European Masters winner Matt Fitzpatrick, Russell Knox, Shane Lowry and Ian Poulter.