Rory McIlroy: I will be even better in 2013
The sporting pageant that is 2012 is just over two weeks away from the rubber stamp applied annually by the BBC. Who would be a golfer in a year of outstanding Olympic achievement, in a year when a Briton finally won a Grand Slam tennis event after a 76-year hiatus, or even won the Tour de France for the first time?
That is the lot of Rory McIlroy, whose own annus mirabilis closed with a fifth victory of the season in Dubai at the weekend and a message to all those behind him in the world ranking queue. Though it would be reward of sorts to follow Mark Cavendish into the BBC hall of fame, McIlroy does not need the Sports Personality of the Year award to legitimise his standing in golf, or the British sporting firmament.
The gap to second in the world rankings, a position presently held by Luke Donald, is greater than at any point since Tiger Woods was the man to whom all deferred. The manner of McIlroy's victory over Justin Rose was astonishing, five successive birdies to close, demonstrating not only technical command but a champion's heart.
McIlroy, at just 23 years old and with two major championships already in his possession, is already on a rare career trajectory. The worry for his rivals is the look in his eye when asked about the year ahead. For him 2013 cannot come soon enough.
"Every goal that I set myself at the start of 2012, I've achieved this year," he said. "The goal is the same for next year, to be focused on the majors, try to win more of those. I've won one in 2011, one in 2012, it would be nice to keep that run going next year. I just try to keep improving as a player. I feel like I can improve in different areas of the game still. That's the challenge and the fun of practice, trying to get better all the time."
He is already beginning to sound like Woods but, as yet, with none of the charm sucked out of him. His schedule is set for next year. He will play a maximum of 22 events, beginning in Abu Dhabi in January, and only five times before April ushers in the major season with the Masters at Augusta. "I've done my schedule. I'm not letting anyone persuade me to go anywhere else. I've learnt my lesson over the last couple of years, I'm going to stick to what I planned."
Donald emerged from the scorer's hut like a veteran returning from the front, in part due to overexposure to McIlroy, and also as a result of a sinus condition that requires surgery. Donald began the final round at the DP World Tour Championship sharing with McIlroy a three-shot lead. After two holes he led outright by two shots. What he witnessed thereafter left him struggling to find his bearings.
"Rory has been the best player all year and that was some finish by him," said Donald. "You have to give him a lot of credit for digging deep. I think both of us weren't feeling 100 per cent physically, but he found the strength to finish like that, and hats off to him, what a way to finish off a great year for him."