Pete Cowen has helped Rory McIlroy get back into the swing of winning

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Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his shot from the eighth tee during the third round of THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT at The Summit Club on October 16, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada - Getty Images
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his shot from the eighth tee during the third round of THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT at The Summit Club on October 16, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada - Getty Images

Who says Rory McIlroy’s singles victory over Xander Schauffele was meaningless? No doubt, in terms of the Ryder Cup and the record shellacking it did not represent a fig, but from that dead rubber arose a piece of silverware that could prove so notable in the career of the Northern Irishman.

“On the Saturday night at the Ryder Cup, I was done with golf; I didn’t want to see it again until 2022,” McIlroy said after beating Collin Morikawa by a shot in Las Vegas. “And then on the Sunday night I thought: ‘Go to Vegas, go to CJ and try to build on this little bit of a breakthrough I’ve had’. ”

Golfing folklore already has it that McIlroy wept at Whistling Straits three weeks ago, unable to come to terms with losing his first three matches in the 19-9 defeat.

Grand pronouncements were immediately said and written concerning a supposedly inexorable decline of a game’s superstar, of the heir to Tiger Woods who won four majors in the three years before he was 25 and exactly none in the 7½ years thereafter. As ever, that demise was greatly exaggerated. The Ryder Cup is a unique arena and as fans of Woods and Phil Mickelson will advise, it defies wisdom to draw cataclysmic theories from a few matchplay encounters. A tweak on the mindset was all that was required.

“There has been a lot of reflection in the couple of weeks since then,” McIlroy said. “This is what I need to do. I need to play golf, simplify it and just be me. I think for the last few months I was trying to be someone else to try to get better but realised that being me is enough and being me, I can do things like this.”

Some on social media have taken this to mean that McIlroy is decluttering his mind of the “technical stuff” and blessedly going out there and once more swinging freely. And this is true. But it should be remembered that McIlroy needed to take the technical route out of the mess that he created in the second half of 2020 when trying to add extra length in response to the Bryson DeChambeau revolution.

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland is pictured on the driving range with his swing coach Pete Cowen during a practice day prior to the abrdn Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club on July 06, 2021 in North Berwick, Scotland - GETTY IMAGES
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland is pictured on the driving range with his swing coach Pete Cowen during a practice day prior to the abrdn Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club on July 06, 2021 in North Berwick, Scotland - GETTY IMAGES

In March, Telegraph Sport exclusively revealed that Pete Cowen had been appointed to sort out the disorder and, as McIlroy’s first new coach since he was eight, there was inevitable mistrust of the septuagenarian Yorkshireman. Yet Cowen knew the score, saying it would not nearly be so straightforward as returning the renowned Rory rhythm to its former glory pre-Bryson. “That’s like painting your wall and then deciding you don’t like the new colour and want it exactly as it was before,” he told me. “But you can’t do that. You can’t just scrape off the new paint – it’s now part of that wall.”

Cowen’s understandable pleas for realism were always doomed for the deaf-ear treatment. Among those who have criticised McIlroy’s move from Michael Bannon have been Paul Casey’s coach, Peter Kostis – “ he needs to go back to his fundamentals; I’m not sure whether Pete Cowen is the guy to do that” – and former European Tour pro Gary Murphy, who said: “I don’t think the changes he has made with Cowen are beneficial; Rory looks like a player frustrated at what he’s trying to implement.”

It was as if Cowen had taken a wirebrush to the Mona Lisa, applied robotic cogs to a natural talent. Seven months on and this conviction needs correction, with maybe one or two apologies issued. Alas, Cowen does not expect to be drowned in contrition. “This might stop all the moaners, but I don’t think it will until he wins a major,” Cowen said on Monday.

Since McIlroy and Cowen linked up, only three players - world No 1 Jon Rahm, Open champion Morikawa and resurgent Jordan Spieth - have earned more world ranking points. In the 25 tournaments before the relationship, McIlroy was winless. In the 15 tournaments since, he has won twice.

Of course, this is not enough and Cowen is spot on in declaring that his influence will be judged purely on the major count. Furthermore, McIlroy acknowledges he still has mechanical strides to make. As well as a late-year dollar-fest – McIlroy picked up £1.3 million for lifting his 20th PGA Tour title – the Summit Club offered a gluttony of birdies and eagles as McIlroy’s 62-66 weekend and the winning total of 25 under highlighted. It was anything but a tough examination.

“Rory is driving it great again and is putting well, and that’s a winning combination at a course like that,” Cowen said. However his approach-play stats were dire by contrast. As he targets the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in a month’s time, this remains his glaring weakness and the continuation of the technical work remains a stark necessity. If only it were so simple as Rory just being Rory again.

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