When Rory McIlroy teed it up as a rookie professional at the Australian Masters in 2007, winning 20 PGA Tour events was not among his list of career ambitions.
But after snaring the CJ Cup in Las Vegas, when a final day charge from Australians Adam Scott and Cameron Smith didn’t materialise, the former world No.1 gave a revealing insight into how he’d well and truly exceeded all those early goals
McIlroy shot rounds of 62 and 66 across the weekend to hold off a Sunday surge from British Open champion Colin Morikawa to set the career mark and collect the $2.3m winner’s cheque at the Summit Club.
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But as he reflected on what he’d achieved, McIlroy recalled an early outing with Aaron Baddeley, the two-time Australian Open champion who also won the Australian Masters that year and set the early bar for the four-time major champion to reach.
“So I remember I turned pro in ‘07 and I went down and played the Australian Masters at the end of that year. I got my European Tour card and the first two days I was paired with Aaron Baddeley,” McIlroy said after his Las Vegas win.
“And Aaron Baddeley was, I think he was 18th in the world. I remember playing with him for the first two days and thinking, ‘Oh, my God, this guy is 18th in the world. How cool would that be?’
“You know, I was sitting here this week before the start of this tournament as the 14th player in the world and basically people wondering if I was going to retire.
“It’s all relative. I just think as a kid starting out, I remember those two days with Aaron Baddeley. We both played really well. Again, he was having a great year, he got to like No.18 in the world, and I as an 18-year-old really looked up to him and really looked up to that and thinking hopefully one day that will be me.
“What I thought was an achievement at the start of my career when I turned pro was to get into the top 20 in the world. So I’ve surpassed all of that, but as you go on, your goals, you have to reframe everything and you have to keep resetting your goals.
“I think that’s what this is. Golf is just about moving forward and there’s always next week and you’re always trying to get better. So yeah, that’s a very long-winded way of saying 20 wins seemed like a long way away whenever I turned pro.
“I think this is probably like 30th worldwide if you count European Tour wins, so it’s been a pretty nice career so far.”
Scott left Las Vegas without a trophy but confident he would soon add another to his cabinet after the Australian finished four shots back from McIlroy in a tie for fifth. It was a second top-five finish in his past five starts as the 41-year-old continued to show his capacity to compete with the young stars on tour.
“It was a great week. I mean, I played a lot of good golf. Anytime you reach 20 under par, there’s not too much going wrong,” Scott said.
“I’m happy with my form. Hopefully, with a couple more starts by the end of the year I can get a win.”
Cameron Smith also recorded a top-10 finish in his first outing for the season, ending up in a tie for ninth, while Marc Leishman continued his recent record of leaving his best until Sunday, closing with an eight-under 64, finishing in a tie for 38th.
In his first event for more than two months, Jason Day shot his only round in the 60s in Las Vegas, closing with a seven-under 65 but still finished in a tie for 64th in the 78-man field.