McIlroy's wild about Harry, Ariya's tough times: golf talking points
A word to the good and some light after the darkness feature in AFP Sport's golf talking points this week:
- Diamond turns to gold -
As Rory McIlroy celebrated his first win in 553 days and a return to the world's top-10 on Sunday at Quail Hollow, he was quick to credit his caddie, Harry Diamond, for a crucial piece of advice that got him over the finish line.
Holding a two-shot lead, McIlroy carved his drive on the final par-four hole Sunday left on to the bank of a stream where it held up on a steep slope, buried in deep rough.
The Northern Irishman was contemplating a potentially disastrous hack out with the ball way below his feet when his long-time friend Diamond stepped in to suggest taking a penalty drop outside the hazard instead.
McIlroy heeded the sage counsel, found the green with his third shot and two putts later his long win drought was over.
"Harry was awesome out there today, especially that decision on the last," said McIlroy of Diamond, who is an accomplished amateur golfer.
"I was ready to get in there and try to play that with a lob wedge and he was sort of like, 'Let's take a step back, let's think about this, where's the best place you're hitting your third from'.
"Ultimately we made the right decision.
"The tough parts that I've had to endure over the last few months, he's been with me every step of the way and it's nice to come through all that with him and to get into the winner's circle again."
- 'I just wanted to stop' -
While McIlroy was ending his own barren streak, half a world away another former world number one, Ariya Jutanagarn, shot an incredible closing 63 to win the LPGA Thailand.
In the process, she ended a 1,015-day wait for her 11th LPGA Tour title and became the first home winner in the tournament's 15-year history.
Her last win before Sunday had been the 2018 Ladies Scottish Open and she revealed just how close she had come to walking away from the game during the dark days in between.
"I had really tough time last two years. I don't know how many times I told my psych coach: 'You know what, I want to rest, I want to stop'," said Ariya.
But she kept going and credited her team for keeping her going. "I would say without them I am not who I am. How many times I just wanted to stop."
- The year of the comeback -
After the drought, the deluge.
Not only have McIlroy and Ariya returned to the winner's circle this year, but a whole string of players have made it back to the top rung of the leaderboard as 2021 shapes up to be the year of the comeback.
Jordan Spieth hadn't won since the 2017 Open Championship at Birkdale when he won the Texas Open last month.
The following week, Hideki Matsuyama, who also hadn't won for four years, triumphed at Augusta to become the first male Japanese major winner.
In the women's game, Lydia Ko broke a 1,084-day drought at the Lotte Championship, Brooke Henderson won the LA Open for her first triumph since 2019 and Kim Hyo-joo ended the longest run of all last week when she won the HSBC Women's World Championship in Singapore -- her first LPGA win since 2016.
Who's next? One popular choice will be the colourful Rickie Fowler, who has plunged to 122nd in the world since his last win, which came at the Phoenix Open in February 2019.
The former world number four's latest attempt to turn his form around comes at this week's Byron Nelson Championship in Texas.
- World rankings -
Latest leading world rankings, updated May 10, 2021:
1. Dustin Johnson (USA) 10.53
2. Justin Thomas (USA) 8.69
3. Jon Rahm (ESP) 8.56
4. Bryson DeChambeau (USA) 7.19 (+1)
5. Xander Schauffele (USA) 7.16 (-1)
6. Collin Morikawa (USA) 7.00
7. Rory McIlroy (NIR) 6.20 (+8)
8. Patrick Reed (USA) 6.14 (-1)
9. Tyrrell Hatton (ENG) 5.90 (-1)
10. Webb Simpson (USA) 5.56 (-1)
1. Ko Jin-young (KOR) 9.64
2. Park In-bee Park (KOR) 8.75
3. Kim Sei-young (KOR) 8.04
4. Nelly Korda (USA) 7.78
5. Brooke Henderson (CAN) 6.42
6. Danielle Kang (USA) 6.10
7. Kim Hyo-joo (KOR) 5.75
8. Lydia Ko (NZL) 5.47
9. Lexi Thompson (USA) 5.19
10. Nasa Hataoka (JPN) 4.69 (+1)