A year ago, things looked very different. Fresh off a disappointing Ryder Cup and ranked outside of the OWGR top 10, McIlroy arrived in South Carolina looking for the catalyst to “climb back to the summit”. Winning the CJ Cup 12 months ago marked a turning point for the fan favourite.
In recent times, McIlroy’s putting has been scrutinised and pinpointed as a key weakness. No longer: in the warm afterglow of this latest title, he referenced the work he’s done and continues to do with putting guru Brad Faxon. “Being able to fall back on your putting, it takes the pressure off your iron play, short game and driving,” McIlroy confirmed. “It makes the rest of the game that bit easier.”
The results speak volumes. In his last 20 competitive rounds McIlroy has finished 1st (Tour Championship), T2nd (BMW PGA Championship), T4th (Italian Open), T4th (Alfred Dunhill Links Championship) and 1st (CJ Cup).
Rory finished the 2020/21 PGA Tour season ranked 66th for Strokes Gained putting. The previous year, he was ranked 122nd. By the end of the 2021/22 season, however, he was up to 16th, the highest position he’s ever been in at season end.
His current Player Quality for putting in Clippd is at 102 (tour average is 100 while the top 25 for putting on tour score 105 or better). And as his Clippd data shows, there's more good news for the 33-year-old: he still has significant room for improvement based on the levels he's been at previously.
In the five distance categories that Clippd measures for putting (we do not include data for the four majors, in which Rory finished 2, 8, T5 and 3), he has produced marked improvements in three. His 12-month trend is flat at 0-3 feet, as you might expect, and his only downward shift is at 35+ feet. Read on to find out where his putting has improved, and by how much.
October 2021: Player Quality 97
October 2022: Player Quality 105
Had McIlroy been putting at the standards he as at today it's very likely he would have won one if not both of January's desert swing events on the DP World Tour. Instead he finished T12th in Abu Dhabi and 3rd in Dubai. Since June he has been consistently strong at this range.
In his last 20 rounds, McIlroy has faced 135 putts between 3-8ft and holed 107 of them. No less than 56 of these putts have been for birdie. Within this distance bracket, he scores highest for 6-7ft putts, averaging 112 for Shot Quality with a 1-putt percentage of 74%.
October 2021: Player Quality 98
October 2022: Player Quality 104
After a high point in May (5th at the Wells Fargo, T18th at the Memorial), McIlroy has been trending steadily upward. Of the 71 total putts he has taken from 8-15ft in his last 20 rounds, 26 have found the bottom of the cup. The others have all being two putts.
From 8-10ft, his 1-putt percentage is an impressive 48%, which translates to an Average Shot Quality of 101.
October 2021: Player Quality 91
October 2022: Player Quality 96
The dip in March and April saw him produce his least impressive run of results of the season: T13 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, T33 at The Players and a missed cut at the Valero Texas Open. And yet his putting had been at its best immediately before that, a stretch that produced solid performances on the DP World Tour and at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera.
Across his last 20 rounds he has left himself putts of 15-35ft on 112 occasions. He's holed 17 of them (just over 19%), 2-putted 91 times and three-putted just four times. From 15-20ft he’s particularly impressive, draining 26% of putts for an Average Shot Quality of 99.
“I’m enjoying the game as much as I ever have,” McIlroy said after defending his CJ Cup title and reclaiming the top spot in the world rankings. What's clear is that the consistently outstanding golf he has played over the last 12 months has been powered in a significant way by the sharp improvements he’s made with the putter.
With a staggeringly good tee-to-green game (his 12-month Player Quality trend with the driver has moved from 116 to 120) and now soaring confidence with the wand, it’s hard to see who is going to unseat him.