Like the guy who’s scored a screamer from 30 yards when the team has lost, Rory McIlroy was clearly pleased with his first win on the European Tour for 18 months but conscious that it wasn’t the time to set off any fireworks when his ex-fiancée was sitting broken-hearted somewhere.
Whatever about that painful situation, Sunday’s win was affirmation that if there’s a man who’s not about to let Adam Scott get too comfortable in the world No 1 spot, it’s McIlroy.
Given the way he began the week, dropping the bombshell that he’d gotten cold feet and felt it was better to break up with Caroline Wozniacki than marry her, we should not have been surprised that he took refuge inside the ropes — “sanctuary” was the word he used — kept the blinkers on and took advantage of Thomas Bjorn’s mistakes and a soft West Course to deny his old pal Shane Lowry by one.
"I think it's the start of something," McIlroy said of the significance of the win in terms of his career and this season's major. But he could also have been talking about Lowry, who was magnificent even in defeat.
“The rain,” he said, when asked why he’d played Wentworth so well this week compared to years past. “With it being so soft, it played a lot differently. Played into my hands. Played longer. Balls weren’t bouncing off fairways into rough. You weren't getting big bounces on greens. You didn't have to try to play from front edges.”
There was more to this than just another McIlroy runaway on a soft course. His playing partner Pablo Larrazábal was blown away by some of the shots McIlroy hit. It’s called the X-factor and while runner up Shane Lowry also has that certain special something that makes him hugely enjoyable to watch, he knows he’ll never be Rory McIlroy.
“I’ve played with Rory before, I’ve played with Tiger, with all of them,” the Barcelona man told Ten-Golf.es. “Those guys are a different breed. They’ve always got something extra. They hit shots that look ordinary but are actually unbelievable. On the 17th, for example, he has 253 or 254 metres to the hole and hits a four-iron. Okay, it was downwind but it would never occur to me to hit a four-iron from 253 metres. But those guys, they have that extra spark that makes them unique in history.”
In his nine 2014 starts before Wentworth, McIlroy had finished T2-T9-T17-T2-T25-T7-T8-T8-T6 and still fell from sixth to 10th in the world.
He’s now back to sixth and with the Memorial to come this week before he builds up for the US Open, who is to say he can’t win a major or even two this year and become “The Man” to fill the void left by the recovering Tiger Woods.
“I hope so,” he said. “I definitely hope so. I think it's the start of something. I could feel my game sort of bubbling and it was getting there. A win, as I said earlier, a win validates that.
“Yeah, I think the game is waiting for one guy or one or two guys or whatever just to kick on. I stand by that comment; that I'd like to be that guy. And I'd like to think that this is a springboard to doing something like that.
"You know, there's still three Majors to play this year, a lot of golf left, a lot of big tournaments to try and win. So even though we're nearly halfway through the season, I feel like mine's just beginning.”
In truth, this could be an even bigger week for runner up Lowry. The big man from Clara is a Top 50 in the world player trapped the European Tour routine. Today, he's up 68 places to 74th in the world but he's clearly a far better player than his world ranking suggests
He’s immensely talented but a combination of illness and injury stopped the momentum he built up in 2012 and it’s time for him to step up again.
After putting poorly for most of this stop-start European Tour season, he can consider himself unlucky that he ran into an inspired McIlroy on Sunday. The way he celebrated the near 50 footer he holed for birdie on the 18th having seen the biggest title on tour snatched from his grasp from a man who has the talent to win double-digit majors, was heartening.
The Clara man would clearly relish a US Open tilt at Pinehurst No 2 where he could give full rein to his magnificent short game and ball-striking prowess.
McIlroy certainly can’t wait to get there.
“I can only go on what I've read and what I've heard about Pinehurst because I've never been there," he said. "No rough for a U.S. Open is going to be very different. I hear it's going to be a long, long golf course, which I'm looking forward to. You know, I don't mind that at all, getting driver in the hand, and a long golf course, it would suit me.
“And obviously the greens are very tricky at Pinehurst, a lot of run-offs and slopes. I think you're going to have to have everything there. Even without seeing the golf course, I don't think it's going to be a course that's going to suit one type of player or another.
"You're obviously going to have to be pretty long off the tee, but most of the guys are these days. Most of the guys can get it out there.
“So it will just be about second shots, and when you miss greens, I think you'll have to be very imaginative around the greens and you'll have to bump it into the hills and run it up, and some guys might try and fly it up on top of the greens.
“It will be interesting to see; I'm going to go and take a look at it after the Memorial Tournament in a couple week's time. So I'll be able to give you a better answer to that question then.”
Lowry still has a chance to make it to Pinehurst via today’s 36 hole qualifier at Walton Heath or through the Top 60 in the world in a few weeks’ time.
He was disappointed but magnanimous in defeat.
"Rory, he's definitely one of the best golfers I've ever played golf with and I've been lucky enough to play a lot of golf with him,” he said. “He's had his struggles over the last couple years and I'm delighted for him, and obviously I'm a bit disappointed I fell one short myself.”
McIlroy repaid the compliment.
“Shane hasn't had the best of years this year. He's struggled a little bit but I know that he's been working hard on his game and I know this it's very close. So that's why I was happy to see him do well this week.
"It just seemed like it was just a couple of putts here or there or a couple of loose shots there. There wasn't anything really wrong with his game. So it was good to see him do well this week.
“As a guy, he seems very comfortable in his own skin. He is who he is, and he's still just one of the lads. He still has his friends from back home, same friends that I grew up playing amateur golf with, too. And yeah, he's a real like salt-of-the-earth type. He comes from a great family. His mom and dad are great people. He's just a really nice, genuine guy.”