Commentary

Rory McIlroy contemplates '13 goals

Updated: January 13, 2013, 1:39 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

The accolades were surpassed only by the dollars, pounds, euros and all the other currencies that Rory McIlroy accumulated during an impressive 2012 season.

There were the player of the year honors from both the PGA Tour and European Tour as well as other such awards from various media bodies around the world.

All of that was in honor of winning the money titles on both tours, highlighted by five worldwide victories, including his second major title, an 8-stroke win at the PGA Championship.

With all that success, McIlroy enters 2013 as the clear No. 1-ranked player in the world with plenty of room to spare and his sights set on more glory.

Certainly the Northern Irishman hopes to add another major championship as part of his wish list for the coming golf season, but therein lies perhaps his main shortcoming -- if there could be such a thing -- coming out of the year just completed.

"Really what was disappointing for me, if there was a disappointment, was that I was only in contention once in the majors, and luckily I was able to win it," McIlory said. "I'd love to be in contention in all four of them and have a chance to win all -- not saying I'm going to win all of them but at least give myself a chance."

We forget that McIlroy went through a rough patch starting with the Masters, as he arrived at Augusta National having finished no worse than 11th in his previous 12 tournaments, including 11 top-fives and two victories.

But McIlroy tied for 40th at the Masters. Although he lost in a playoff to Rickie Fowler at his next tournament, the Wells Fargo Championship, he then suffered through a puzzling phase of bad form that included the next two majors.

In his next seven tournaments, McIlroy missed four cuts, including at the U.S. Open. He tied for 60th at the Open Championship.

A tie for fifth at the WGC-Bridgestone got McIlroy back on track again, and he won by those whopping 8 strokes the following week at Kiawah. He followed that up with two victories in the FedEx Cup playoffs and a season-ending win at the DP World Tour Championship, the final tournament on the European Tour schedule.

"I guess over the past 18 months, especially after winning the [2011] U.S. Open, I sort of felt like I went to the next level or the next stage of my career," McIlroy said. "I feel like my personality away from the golf course hasn't changed, but definitely when I get to the golf course I'm maybe a little more professional, a little more businesslike and go about my business like that.

[+] EnlargeRory McIlroy
Doug Kapustin/Getty ImagesIn 2011 at Congressional Country Club, Rory McIlroy shattered numerous U.S. Open records while winning his first major championship at 16 under.

"But I guess that's just the way you have to be to be successful and to try and win as many tournaments as you can. You have to approach it that way, and I feel like I have probably changed my mindset a little bit over the past 12 or 18 months, and it's definitely helped and obviously helped me to win more tournaments."

Another major championship would give McIlroy three majors at age 24 and would put him in some rare company as it relates to winning majors in three consecutive years.

Tiger Woods spoiled us with his run of major championship success, twice managing to win at least one major championship in four consecutive years (1999-2002 and 2005-2008). Jack Nicklaus also won a major in four consecutive years, doing so from 1970-73. So did Tom Watson (1980-83).

McIlroy is attempting to become just the eighth golfer in history win a major in three straight years, something the likes of Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo never accomplished.

"What would be a success [in 2013] compared to [2012]. ... I guess it's just trying to become a better golfer, a better player, maybe add more variety to my game, add a couple of more shots here and there," McIlroy said. "I still feel like I can improve in all aspects of the game. And if I can do that, and my focus is on that, hopefully the tournament wins and the success will come.

"But we are judged on wins ultimately, and [2012 was] a great year with four wins on the PGA Tour and winning in Dubai. ... I won my first major in '11, and I backed it up [in 2012] with another one, and I'd love to go into '13 with that same goal of obviously trying to win another major."

That pursuit will be among the big stories in the golf year.

McIlroy has already contended at Augusta National. He tied for 15th in 2011 after leading with nine holes to play, finishing with a final-round 80. Last year he was in the hunt headed to the weekend before a poor final two rounds.

He already has six top-10s in majors, including five top-fives. After the Masters, the big key for McIlroy will be finding comfort on the major championship venues of Merion, Muirfield and Oak Hill. He has never played any of them.

"They're going to be three new experiences for me, three new courses, and I've just got to try and prepare for them as best I can," he said.

[+] EnlargeRory McIlroy
David Cannon/Getty ImagesWith the same margin of victory as his first major win a year earlier, Rory McIlroy captured the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, S.C., by a whopping 8 strokes.

Few will have played any of the major venues, certainly not in the type of condition they'll be in this summer. Merion is hosting the U.S. Open for the first time since 1981. The Open Championship was last played at Muirfield in 2002, with the PGA last at Oak Hill in 2003.

"He's become very single-minded in his sort of quest to be the world's best player, and I think I've just kind of been impressed how well he's done it," said friend Graeme McDowell, who won the 2010 U.S. Open. "I feel like he's put more pressure on himself and still managed to blow fields away. I think when he won at Kiawah, wins two FedEx playoff events, maybe a little burned out at the Tour Championship, who knows, played great at the Ryder Cup and finished so strong, it's impressive.

"He's just impressed me how much he's matured and stepped up and really kind of handled the new kind of stratosphere that he's blown himself into as a player. He's handled it incredibly well and very maturely."

There will be plenty more for McIlroy to handle in 2013. In addition to relocating to Florida from Northern Ireland, he'll be playing with a new brand of clubs, the worst kept secret in golf.

And he hopes to get more out of less by cutting back his schedule.

McIlroy will begin his 2013 season in Abu Dhabi on the European Tour and is not expected to play again after that until the WGC-Match Play, followed by a defense of his Honda Classic title and the WGC-Cadillac at Doral. He is adding the Shell Houston Open two weeks before the Masters.

By then, there will be plenty more conversation about McIlroy's ability to win a major championship for the third straight year.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

ALSO SEE