"Monday Scorecard" is a look back at the biggest stories from the golf world over the past seven days.
Rory McIlroy is back.
This doesn't mean he ever left, but the chubby, curly-haired 20-year-old who was expected to seamlessly take the torch from Tiger Woods and carry the sport for another decade or so has re-emerged. He's in better physical shape now, with a few gray hairs as a sign of experience.
The transition from Tiger to Rory appeared obvious when the Northern Irishman collected four major titles by the age of 25, right around the same time Woods began dealing with his back injuries. Jack Nicklaus even pegged McIlroy as the player who can break his major-wins record.
But with no major victories since the 2014 PGA Championship, and with Jordan Spieth winning two major titles in 2015, many had given up on the idea of McIlroy becoming Tiger's heir.
However, after maturing for a few years on and off the golf course, McIlroy now seems more ready than ever to fill the void Tiger is beginning to create. It's an exciting time for golf, even if the torch passing came a few years later than expected.
Conveniently, Rory's resurgence was neatly relived during his final round on Sunday at The Players Championship, a fitting performance to cumulate his journey back to the top.
After falling just short of tournament wins multiple times already in 2019, the pressure on Rory was sky high as he entered the final round at The Players one shot off the pace.
He looked uncomfortable a few holes in on Sunday, just like how he appeared shaken under the bright spotlight following his fourth career major win.
He hit a loose iron shot on No. 1, then pulled his driver on the second hole, where McIlroy would eventually miss a 7-footer for birdie. On the fourth, Rory hit a 120-yard wedge into the water, leading to a double-bogey to fall further off the lead.
Most assumed that was it, his Sunday struggles were back, and he was on his way to another disappointing top-five finish. Calling a top five "disappointing" shows how high expectations are for Rory.
His eight top-10 finishes in majors since the Tour veteran's last win aren't good enough either. Anything short of a win is a letdown.
"It's a bit like Christmas. You know it's going to come."
That's the analogy Rory used after Round 1 of The Players regarding the inevitable win coming his way. Maybe it wouldn't come that week, but it would happen eventually as long as he remained focused and patient.
Instead of forcing the issue and beginning to play even more aggressively after his double-bogey, Rory didn't let that one bad hole define his round. Similarly, he no longer lets one poor round affect his feeling away from the course thanks to a new-found perspective.
"One thing I used to do in the past is I'd let what I shot that day influence who I was or my mood," he said after his win. "Because who I am as a person isn't who I am as a golfer and it took me a while to get to that point, where I realized those two people were."
McIlroy managed to battle back from his early mishap, picking his spots to attack. He birdied six of 11 holes before walking to the island green at No. 17 with a one-stroke lead.
Whether it's for a six-hole or six-month stretch, the 29-year-old said his patience-driven approach is already paying off.
"I feel like I've been on a journey for the last six or seven months of getting back to a place where I know I can challenge to be the best player in the world and challenge for the biggest tournaments in the world, like this week, so it's just about staying patient."
Rory knew his checklist to win the tournament, and staying dry at the island green was the top goal.
"It was the first good swing of three swings I needed to make to win the tournament," he said of his shot that set up a par on the iconic hole at TPC Sawgrass.
Now needing only a par to win, Rory exuded more confidence than ever when he pulled his St. Bernard headcover off his driver on the 18th tee. The Players title was on the line, with nothing but water hugging the left side of the fairway.
"18 tee shot was the one. It was probably the most difficult shot that I had all day knowing I had a four to win," McIlroy said. "I picked my target, I stepped up and I just made a committed swing."
He split the fairway with a 288-yard drive into the wind, setting up a routine approach that came closer to the water than he probably would have liked, and a two-putt for the title.
Rory said his confidence on No. 18 came from a moment back at the 2008 Hong Kong Open. That's when he faced a similar daunting tee shot and told himself "the golf gods will reward you for making a good, committed swing."
He's been using that memory from over 10 years ago to boost his confidence ever since.
With his Players Championship win, Rory's confidence is at an all-time high as he starts the next chapter of his career.
"I've started a second phase of my career. I've been on Tour for 10, 11 years and I've learned a lot over those 10 to 11 years," he said after accepting his Players trophy. "And I feel like I can make the next 10 years even better than the previous 10 years. So that's what my motivation is."
Oh yeah. Rory McIlroy is definitely back.
Score: Eagle. Golf is so much better when Rory is at the top of his game.