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rory: 'patience paid dividends'

Rory McIlroy received plenty of criticism when he switched club manufacturers almost two years ago and he has now conceded that it took nearly 12 months to feel totally at ease with his new equipment.

The Northern Irishman was flying high at the top of the world rankings when he signed a 10-year contract with Nike in January 2013 that, according to media reports, was worth $250 million.

A host of fellow golfers and media pundits lined up to tell McIlroy he was taking a gamble with his career and he went through a torrid time before ending a 12-month title drought by landing the Australian Open crown at the end of the year.

McIlroy has not looked back since and an outstanding 2014 season yielded two major triumphs, a World Golf Championship win, victory in the European Tour's flagship event, a memorable Ryder Cup display and a return to the number one spot in the rankings.

"The Australian win at the end of a very lean 2013 was a welcome bit of form," the 25-year-old said. "It was the coming together of some hard work on many aspects of my game and becoming completely comfortable with the club changes I'd made.

"I then had the confidence to get the job done. I'd say it was worth the wait to get things properly in place.

"The major wins were really a continuation of that process. And, of course, hugely important, satisfying and evidence that I could win majors when I had to dig deep, rather than by comfortable margins," said McIlroy who has been voted the 2014 Reuters Sportsman of the Year.

"But don't get me wrong. I've nothing against a comfortable margin."

McIlroy's first two major triumphs, in the 2011 US Open and 2012 US PGA Championship, were both runaway eight-shot victories.

His third and fourth major wins, achieved this year, were much tighter affairs. He won the British Open at Hoylake by two strokes in July and had only one shot to spare when he lifted his second US PGA Championship trophy, in Kentucky in August.

McIlroy also had a stellar season in 2012, winning five times around the world, but believes he is a much more mature player these days.


"Two years on tour is quite a long time, even (or especially) as a 25-year-old," he explained. "I also think my game and mental approach are in many ways linked.

"With my swing, clubs and fitness in place, I feel confident enough to go out and win.

"Perhaps a lot of the maturity is just an extended learning curve, with each experience, good or bad, another lesson in patience, course management and knowing when, or when not, to take a risk."

McIlroy gave an exemplary exhibition of course management during Europe's victory over the United States in Scotland in September. Pitting his wits against an in-form Rickie Fowler in the final-day singles at Gleneagles, he simply blew the American away with a performance that showed just why he is the world number one.

McIlroy reeled off four birdies and an eagle in a stunning six-hole start and went on to record a 5 & 4 demolition job on a dazed Fowler.

"That was really down to a confidence thing," said the Northern Irishman. "I'd been playing really well, my swing was in great shape and I felt I knew what I needed to do to get a win on the board - get off to a fast start.

"The early birdies that day came as a result of some excellent driving, which effectively took any trouble out of the equation on the opening holes and allowed me relatively easy approaches.

"I thought that if I was well under par by the turn I would be difficult to catch."

The quality of McIlroy's golf this year has helped him establish a sizeable lead over closest pursuers Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott and Bubba Watson and he will certainly be difficult to catch at the top of the rankings in 2015.