Back to back winners at the US Open are a rarity in recent times with that honour going to Curtis Strange in 1989, during a period in his career when the American was virtually unbeatable – as Sir Nick Faldo discovered in the play off the previous year at The Country Club in Brookline.
With a trip to the Bay Area imminent - for the US Open - the chances of the current champion Rory McIlroy becoming the first player to retaun the title this century looking less probable. In fact, very unlikely given the current form, as it includes missed cuts at The Players in Sawgrass, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last week, and The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village this week.
At the end of the final day last year at Congressional it looked a formality given the sheer dominance McIlroy had shown over ten four days – with Sunday proving a sheer exhibition of his golfing talent and ability.
But like many a major winner it seems that the Northern Ireland Walker Cup winner, 2012 Ryder Cup winner and major champion has been unable l to battle the natural laws of gravity that have followed most other winners. None less that his fellow Northern Ireland major winner, Darren Clarke, who since the winning putt at Sandwich last July and leaving the Royal St George locker room has failed to come close to lifting another trophy. As both golfers conclude their twelve month reigns, the trophies are due to be returned when McIlroy arrives at The Olympic Club, and Clarke checks-in at Royal Lytham.
On current form it would seem that Sunday night celebrations at ether venue look unlikely.
But life golf can be stranger than fiction and as Padraig Harrington showed at Royal Birkdale in 2008, back to back major wins are not impossible. In fact watching Harrington that Sunny Sunday afternoon alongside Greg Norman, it all looked rather easy when his five wood on the seventeenth rolled so kindly to within a gimme of the flag. And having won the play off at Carnoustie twelve months earlier and also buried the burden of winning a major, and also slayed the ghost of no home winner at the Irish Open in 25 years at Adare Manor in 2007.
A helpful memory for Clarke no doubt when he sets off on the wild Lancashire coast next month,.
For Rory though there is the confidence knowing that he won this year at The Honda Classic, and two second places – Accenture World match play in Arizona and at The Wells Fargo on his return to his happy hunting grounds of Quail Hollow. And if the absence of from is viewed as something temporary then a win at the US Open is not a stench of the imagination. Albeit worrying that there is only one tournament – the FedEx St Jude Classic – to get things right and banish any demons that may be lurking unbeknown to the rest of us.
But as this year’s Masters proved, McIroy is capable of bouncing back at any time.
Unfortunately though during this period the scrutiny will return once again about lifestyle, his caddie, tournament preparations and overall focus until he returns to winning. Or reclaims the world number one spot. Given McIlroy lives his life on twitter, shares his personal life with world number 4 tennis player, Carline Wozniacki, with his followers he is no doubt accustomed to the scrutiny. But it certainly does not become any easier and photos attending The White House in March look good when you’re winning. However attracts all sorts of criticism when the winning goes amiss – adding to the pressure – raising questions about some of the decisions over the past year about his management also.
Although with the Irish Open this year at Royal Portrush one has to believe that McIlroy has winning plans for the Dunluce Links this summer. By then we will know the outcome of the US Open in San Francisco.
The signs though of concern are there already after Rory added the FedEx event to his busy schedule - a departure from his usual routine of not playing the week before a major championship. Indeed airing the news on twitter.
“In Heathrow about to go to the US. Excited about the next 3 weeks! Memorial, Memphis and then defend the US Open in San Fran,” he tweeted.
McIlroy last played in the FedEx St. Jude Classic two years ago, tying for 29th before missing the cut at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach a week later.
In six starts on the PGA TOUR this season, McIlroy has a win, two runner-up finishes and a third. On The European Tour he has 2 top-5 finishes and is currently conceded his world number title to Luke Donald – who is the epitome of rocky steady.
After Wentworth Horizon Spots CEO, Conor Ridge came out and said:
“'I said to Rory after Wentworth that every day is a school day, you're always learning in this job, and what we know about Rory is he is a really fast learner.
'People can say what they want. I view these two missed cuts as a positive, to be honest, going forward.'
“Like any 23-year-old, his schedule is still a bit of a trial and error process and we'll tweak it accordingly as we go along,' said Ridge.
But we know McIlroy does care and was supposedly furious with himself for being so ill-prepared for the BMW PGA Championship. The failure at the Memorial would have only added only added to that fury - and so look out St. Jude.
The only worry though is a comment made by Rory's father, Gerry, in the immediate aftermath of the Rory's crash out of the BMW PGA Championship
"There's always tomorrow. It's not the Olympics,"
Albeit not tomorrow, in two weeks it’s The Olympic Club and the US Open. So Rory, Conor, JP and Gerry need to be ready to match the Strange history - and win back-to-back.