Impressive start to 2018 for Rory McIlroy and Seamus Power!
Natural talent is everything in professional golf. Application matters, but natural talent is everything, everything, everything. I learnt a tough lesson in this regard in 2004, when having watched Phil Mickelson come off a terrible year to win the Bob Hope Classic in January, I looked at the 33/1 for the Masters and thought to myself - 'this is Phil's year'. Then I left it, and when I took the price on Masters week, he was only 9/1, a consequence of peak form. I knew I had missed the odds, a crystal ball prescience which was confirmed when he out battled Ernie Els down the stretch to win a first green jacket. It's that God given talent which enabled Mickelson to win the Open at Muirfield in 2013, a Championship he had not known how to play for years, not to mind contending in.
County Down superstar Rory McIlroy is in that rare echelon - the natural talent bracket. Time and time again he has flattered to deceive, surprising us, frustrating us, baffling us, before going on a winning streak to remind us he is probably the most gifted golfer on the planet in the post Tiger era. It happened when he suffered a collapse at Augusta in 2010 and won the very next major, the U.S. Open, by 8 shots. It happened in 2012, when he won the U.S. PGA by 8 shots. It happened in 2014, when he won the Open at Hoylake at a price of 18/1, the first of a hat trick of titles, including the PGA again, as he held his nerve in the fading light of Valhalla. It happened in 2016, when a quiet year delivered an Irish Open and the epilogue of the prestigious Tour Championship.
In the stock market, this might be the right time to 'buy' McIlroy in the betting markets. His 2017 was quiet, with a rib injury, the parting of ways with caddie JP Fitzgerald and the good news story of his marriage eclipsing the golf. Putting the clubs away in October looks a shrewd decision. A tie for third in the Abu Dhabi Championship with only 3 bogeys over 72 holes bodes well. It's poised to be a big year for Rory, so let's hope he stays injury free and is a regular Sunday fixture on TV. Golf needs his swashbuckle. Watch this space.
Over in California, as Jon Rahm (whom I flagged two weeks ago on www.offtheball.com) won again, Waterford's Seamus Power continued his steady progress on the U.S. PGA Tour with a tied 11th finish at the Career Builder Challenge. This is the second best ever result for the Olympian on the Tour, a roadshow which is shark tank of ambition, travel, grinding, success and tarnished dreams. If Seamus can make it on the PGA Tour, he can make it anywhere. If you don't believe me, read 'A Good Walk Spoiled' by legendary writer John Feinstein.
Power received his 2017 playing privileges via the finals of the secondary American circuit, the Web.com Tour, which is the equivalent of the European Tour's Challenge Tour. He squeezed in by 287 dollars, but that sweat last year hasn't sent to him to the rear view mirror in panic so far. Instead, a very solid performance over the last 4 days is a great confidence boost for the coming months. Let's hope Seamus Power can be inspired by the achievements of his friends Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry and make a name for himself on the other side of the pond.