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Rory McIlroy: Rest up and become even better

By Karl MacGinty

With two more Major titles and a first World Golf Championship in the bag, Rory McIlroy could afford a smile of satisfaction as his competitive year concluded in Sydney.

Next April's US Masters and McIlroy's bid to complete his career grand slam already seems compelling, especially given his admission last week that he has thought about Augusta "every day" since winning the US PGA.

After such a fantastic year, harping on McIlroy's gloomy weekend at the Australian Open, where he tied 15th on two-over, 15 strokes behind Texas lone star Jordan Spieth seems churlish.

Yet McIlroy's sometimes disjointed efforts since August's glory in the glooming at Valhalla, are of significance if he's to take his rightful place among the sport's all-time legends.

Today's elite golfers earn vast fortunes. McIlroy made more on the golf course this year, €10,599,708 (£8,402,498), than accumulated by Arnie Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in their entire careers on the PGA Tour.

Yet today's stars endure infinitely greater media intrusion, social pressure and other distractions, while being European places McIlroy's at further disadvantage to Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson.

His loyalty to his 'home' tour, a commitment which is exponentially greater now than it was in Seve Ballesteros' or Nick Faldo's day, places further demands on McIlroy's time.

Throughout his career, Tiger would play one or two 'foreign' tournaments each year on top of the Majors, WGCs and his regular US Tour stops. So he would usually tee it up 22 times or fewer per annum.

Last weekend was McIlroy's 25th 'full-blooded' event in 2014 (including the Ryder Cup). The figure would have been higher had he not withdrawn from the recent BMW Masters and HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

McIlroy is the most gifted and charismatic golfer of his generation, but if he's to fulfil his true potential, he must act decisively on the lessons on the past three months and keep a tighter rein on his schedule.

The tragedy for golf this summer was that within a fortnight of completing one of the most spectacular hat-tricks in history, winning the Open, Bridgestone and US PGA, McIlroy then felt compelled to play four FedEx Cup play-offs on successive weekends.

Judging the exhausted Ulsterman's comments after losing both the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup to Billy Horschel in Atlanta, that's unlikely ever to happen again.

McIlroy knows he would have boosted his prospects of winning America's season-long championship (and a deserved $10m bonus) by skipping at least one of those play-offs.

After a paltry one-week rest, the Holywood native then performed an honourable leading role on Paul McGinley's Ryder Cup team.

Few were surprised the following Sunday at St Andrews, when McIlroy felt 'flat' as he stumbled home second at the Dunhill Links.

Though briefings from his legal team about February's court case were his stated reason for missing the BMW Masters and HSBC that followed, McIlroy plainly needed his six-plus weeks off before the DP World Tour Championship.

While he hit the ground running in Dubai with a flawless opening 66, kinks began to show in his game, so McIlroy surprised even himself by getting into contention and registering his fifth runner-up finish of the year.

He felt jet-lagged and looked jaded in Sydney. Bottom line, McIlroy struggled to hit the greens. He simply faded away over the weekend as Spieth's ball danced jigs and reels around every pin.

Pointedly, McIlroy's only missed cut of 2014 was in Ireland, in his eighth tournament in 10 weeks and just five days after the US Open.

Fatigue certainly played its part in Fota, as it did in denying him the FedEx Cup and PGA Tour Championship, plus a potential victory at St Andrews.

Meanwhile, his unsettled end-of-season schedule undermined McIlroy's performance at the DP World Tour Championship and his title defence in Australia.

If he's going to rival Tiger's once-famed ability for tuning up ready to win every tournament he plays, McIlroy must learn from the three 'lost' monthts in his greatest year.

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