Date: November 26, 2013
Author: Mike Clayton at Royal Sydney Golf Club

Clayton: Chances running out for Rory in 2013

At the beginning of the year Rory McIlroy was ranked as the best player in the game. He had with ease accounted for the field at Kiawah Island in the PGA Championship, the final major of 2012, and perhaps here was the man to seriously challenge Tiger Woods. Instead he slipped, missing cuts in the early season American events, and generally putting in performances far below the high expectation of the session before. He changed clubs driver, irons, wedges and putter as well as the ball he used and many wondered if he had made a critical mistake. Many players before had settled for the lure of big endorsement money only to lose their games. Only he knows how the new equipment differed from the old and only he knows how must trust he lost or didn t. He too is embroiled in a presumably distracting dispute with his previous management company and again only he knows how much of a distraction that has been. Still he hasn t won this year and at this point he has two chances remaining. Next week he plays in California in what is a Tiger Woods invitational with a very limited field. He is then left with this week s Australian Open as his last chance to win a real championship. He was out on the practice day with Melbourne junior Ryan Ruffels who happened to need a caddie for the day. With bag on shoulder I had an opportunity to watch McIlroy swing and hit and it is far from apparent why he hasn t won this year. The swing is so familiar. Perfectly in balance he moves with such freedom through the ball and in the twelve holes the pair played he barely missed a shot. He pulled a couple of shots – a drive off the long second at Royal Sydney into the bunkers and an eight iron into the back bunker at the short 6th but those two aside it was one perfect looking shot after another. With the wind helping he was 350 yards off the 7th tee and left with only a middle iron into the formerly long par five and at the most difficult Royal Sydney par four, the 11th, he pitched a short wedge onto the green after driving 360 yards. Adam Scott and Jason Day are clearly in brilliant form but they won t have it all their own way if the Ulsterman plays as he looks like he is going to. Ruffels is the son of Ray, the fine tennis player of the era of Newcombe and Rosewell. Born in the United States when his dad was coaching the Woodford and Woodbridge doubles team he came to Australia as ten-year-old and took seriously to golf, leaving tennis to his younger sister. We have played a little together over the past few years and every three months or so he makes a significant move forward with his game. From a skinny thirteen year old who could barely drive 200 meters he is a taller, stronger fifteen year old who can almost keep up with McIlroy off the tee. He played with Adam Scott a couple of weeks ago in Melbourne and noted that my good shots are almost as good as his good shots but his bad shots are much better than my bad shots. Whilst the sport of his parents his mother was also a fine tennis player has conspicuously failed in Australia to produce more than the odd player of the first rank, golf has done well. It could have done better of course and the new generation needs to step up and replace the aging Robert Allenby and Stuart Appleby, men who have played so well in America for well over a decade. It is some way from a talented fifteen year old to the American Tour but Ruffels may be the best kid we have seen since Adam Scott and the champion here in 1999,Aaron Baddeley.