Rory McIlroy: 'Next 10-15 years is my time'

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy celebrated his Race to Dubai victory with his mother, father and girlfriend Erica Stoll

Anyone thinking this was a wasted year for Rory McIlroy should think again.

After collecting his third Race to Dubai crown in four years, the Northern Irishman is taking stock of a 2015 season in which he won four times but failed to add to his quartet of major titles.

The setback of his July ankle injury, picked up playing football with mates, cost him the chance of defending his Open Championship at St Andrews and effectively ended his hopes of claiming a third PGA title in August.

It ripped the heart out of his year and Jordan Spieth and Jason Day filled the vacuum left by the 26-year-old's misfortune.

The 22-year-old American and the Australian, 28, surged past the Northern Ireland star in the world rankings and McIlroy learned important lessons in the process.

"You definitely can't be complacent," McIlroy told BBC Sport after the victory in the DP World Tour Championship on Sunday that completed his Race to Dubai defence.

"I had a big lead in the world rankings and you see Jordan and Jason play the way they did. Fields are so deep, you can't let up at all.

"Tagging along with that, you know, this is my time to capitalise on my career. The next 10, 15 years is my time.

"I really can't be doing silly things like playing football in the middle of the season to jeopardise even six months of my career. It's a big chunk where I could make some hay and win a major or two.

Rory McIlroy is in a protective boot after rupturing an ankle ligament
McIlroy said in the summer that he would keep playing football as it was something he "enjoyed" and had "done my whole life"

"I won't be making those mistakes again next year."

McIlroy was close to his very best over the final weekend of the European season. His imperious ball-striking was allied to a surer putting touch in closing rounds of 65 and 66.

It is refreshing to hear him accept he cannot take his foot off the gas in the coming seasons. Spieth's victories in the Masters and the US Open and Day's triumph at the PGA have demonstrated that McIlroy will not be able to rely on raw talent alone.

The Ulsterman is the most naturally gifted golfer on the planet, but to turn that into domination he has to harness a work ethic to match that of the duo who narrowly lead him in the rankings.

Certainly the evidence in Dubai suggests that McIlroy is more than aware of this and his victory sent the emphatic message that he remains a fearsome force at the top of the game.

Not that the player himself views his latest victory in such a way. "I'm not sending a message to anyone," he stated.

"I'm just going out there to play my best. I had goals and objectives which had nothing to do with Jordan Spieth or Jason Day.

Jordan Spieth and Jason Day
Jordan Spieth (left) has said that it is too soon to say that he is part of a "big three" with Jason Day (right) and McIlroy

"I wanted to win the Race to Dubai, I wanted to beat Danny Willett over the week and I wanted to beat Andy Sullivan.

"Whether it's Jordan Spieth or Jason Day or anyone else, I have certain objectives throughout the year and it doesn't matter who it is, I just want to play the best golf possible.

"I know if I do play to my best or close to my best then I am able to win big tournaments."

McIlroy will not compete again until the European Tour returns to the Middle East for the Abu Dhabi Championship in late January.

Much of that time will be spent on conditioning work in the gym before he picks up his clubs for serious practice in the new year.

This strategy makes perfect sense because the 2016 season will be like no other with the return of golf to the Olympics. Players must make sure they have plenty in the tank for July and August.

The Open and PGA are both played in a three-week window before Rio. Then, once the Games are completed in August, they will head straight into the PGA Tour playoffs before the Ryder Cup.

It is a mouth-watering prospect, particularly with such exciting figures at the very top of the game. And McIlroy, having learned the lessons of the ups and downs of 2015, seems much better equipped to capitalise.

Last summer was the most miserable of his career to date. The available evidence suggests a stark contrast next year.

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