Sports Personality of the Year: Why Rory McIlroy should win

Each of the 12 Sports Personality of the Year contenders has an advocate explaining why they should win. Here, former US Open champion and fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell backs Rory McIlroy.

Candour from top athletes is a rare commodity. Disappointing performances are often excused and self-confessed vulnerability is usually to be avoided.

Rory McIlroy is different in so many ways and one of them is the way he tries not to dodge an issue.

  • Finest moment: Winning his second major - the US PGA - by eight shots
  • Historical context: When just 22, he won his first major, the US Open, with a record score of 16-under-par
  • In his own words: "Thanks Dad and thanks Mum. I never imagined doing this [winning the US PGA]. It means an awful lot to look at the names on that trophy and put mine alongside them"

So when his season threatened to fall apart in the spring and early summer of 2012, golf's best player explained his demise with typical honesty.

"Maybe I have taken my eye off the ball," he said in the wake of his missed cut at the European Tour's flagship BMW PGA Championship.

McIlroy had also failed to qualify for the weekend at the prestigious Players' Championship and was only a couple of weeks away from making an early exit in his defence of the US Open.

This was at a time when he was expected to be capitalising on a brilliant start to the year in which he had become the second youngest player to rise to number one in the world.

McIlroy had felled the great Tiger Woods - the only player to top the rankings at a younger age - to win the Honda Classic at the beginning of March. The result made it official; the then 22-year-old was the best player on the planet.

Results in the immediate aftermath didn't reflect this and it became time to retreat to the range, rededicate himself and get his eye back on the ball.

As Woods observed: "He went through a spell this year when he didn't play well and he went back home and just practised. Lo and behold he turned it around."

Sports Personality of the Year 2012

BBC SPOTY 2012 - The contenders

Rather like so many of our athletes McIlroy wasn't ready to peak until the heady Olympic mid-summer period.

While sporting attention centred on the London Games, he was putting together a script that was every bit as impressive as the feats being achieved by Great Britain and Northern Ireland's performers in the capital.

He romped to the US PGA title to collect his second major at Kiawah Island. The triumph proved the bedrock for a stellar season.

He claimed back-to-back PGA Tour wins en route to leading the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic by the end of the season. He had no fewer than five tournament victories, four runners-up and two third-place finishes.

In golfing circles no one knows McIlroy better than his Northern Irish compatriot and Ryder Cup partner Graeme McDowell.

"We gonna talk about the boy wonder here are we?" quipped the 2010 US Open champion as we began our conversation. It's familiar territory for McDowell, having witnessed his friend's meteoric rise at such close hand.

Contenders on Twitter

* Katherine Grainger and Bradley Wiggins do not have Twitter accounts

"He's the world's number one player, he's won two major championships at a very young age and very convincingly," McDowell said. McIlroy's 2011 US Open and this year's PGA were both achieved by eight-stroke margins.

"He's stamped his authority on world golf over the last couple of years. He's only 23 years old and he's just an incredibly talented kid with a great personality.

"If you need a personality to win BBC Sports Personality - which I hope you do - he's certainly got a great one.

"Golf is a tough one. We are not a mainstream sport like football and athletics but I hope the public can realise what Rory McIlroy has achieved this year," McDowell added.

"It's been fun to sit on the sidelines and watch him develop as a player. He's always been mature for his age and he's always had the tools to get the job done.

"There were a few small percentages that needed to improve and he has really addressed those well. Perhaps his putting is an example and he's become a great putter.

"He contends every week and to win both money lists this year is just incredible. He's a great player and I'm hoping he gets plenty of votes. He'd be a deserving BBC Sports Personality of the Year."

McIlroy is dominating a sport where it has become increasingly difficult to separate yourself from the rest. Modern equipment, practice regimes and technology make it easier for all top players to remedy faults.

Last 10 winners

  • 2011: Mark Cavendish (cycling)
  • 2010: Tony McCoy (horse racing)
  • 2009: Ryan Giggs (football)
  • 2008: Sir Chris Hoy (cycling)
  • 2007: Joe Calzaghe (boxing)
  • 2006: Zara Phillips (Equestrian)
  • 2005: Andrew Flintoff (cricket)
  • 2004: Dame Kelly Holmes (athletics)
  • 2003: Jonny Wilkinson (rugby union)
  • 2002: Paula Radcliffe (athletics)

The list of potential major winners has never been longer as indicated by a list that stretched to 16 different winners of golf's greatest prizes when Ernie Els won this year's Open.

That sequence was broken when McIlroy won at Kiawah Island and now he is facing constant comparisons with 14-times major champion Woods. Already McIlroy has claimed his second major at a younger age than his American rival did.

This year in the US, the Northern Ireland man averaged 68.87 strokes per round, the lowest on Tour.

He has become golf's star attraction and the American media are likening him to Woods, believing him to be a "once-in-a-generation player".

At the Ryder Cup he was one of Europe's star contributors, winning three of his five matches. He won his final day singles match against Keegan Bradley despite arriving at the course with minutes to spare because he had misread his tee-off time.

McIlroy had thought he had an extra hour to spare before being rushed to the course in a state trooper's car. Typically, he accepted the blame for the mix-up.

Yes, he does make the odd mistake, but as shown at Medinah and in general throughout 2012, he has the personality and talent to respond in perfect fashion.