Five years ago – Five years ago – McIlroy was by far the best player in the world by far. Jordan Spieth approached and Justin Thomas was further behind; Jason Day had not quite found the winning habit, and while Dustin Johnson had it absolutely, questions remained as to why and where it would go on key dates.

Brooks Koepka was a bit off the top of the game, Tiger Woods fell off, and throughout the summer of 2014, Rory McIlroy and his squat step were longer than it should have, which looked unbeatable. Heck, even the weather did what he said, a gentle hoylake that offered him an open chance and darkness, and paused a few seconds longer so he could hurry to Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson Walhalla

However, it is the performance in between that stays in the head. At the World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational, McIlroy started the final round three strokes behind Sergio Garcia, who made seven birdies in a row on the way to a Friday 61, and after a solid Saturday, remained the man who could catch him.

McIlroy made the first, second, and third to share the lead, the fifth to take over, and could afford to win equivalent golf in the clubhouse to win two. The effect he had on Garcia was clear when the Spaniard, a friend who would become Ryder Cup partner later in the year, was mercilessly exposed in an hour of ruthless attack by the world's new number one.

When McIlroy went to Kentucky to complete a hat-trick, he was an unstoppable force. Nine parts brilliant, one part happy and absolutely convinced of his own superiority; a four-time champion who would not waste time to reach five. The countdown started immediately for Augusta and his first attempt at a career grand slam. His demolition of Rickie Fowler's Ryder Cup was another step on a smooth, straight path to become the greatest player in the history of European golf.

Five years ago. Almost. One thousand, six hundred and eighty-six days, to be exact, in which McIlroy has done great – this electric victory in the TOUR Championship is one of eight titles he has collected – but no bigger than any other world-class player. not really. It was said last year that the nature of Tiger Woods' return confirms that he is just another outstanding player. The same applies to McIlroy.

And so on Sunday and the last round of the PLAYERS Championship. This is not of great importance if you wondered, but it could have a big impact on McIlroy's season. Maybe even the next few years of his career. It really feels so important.

He goes into the final round, a shot behind another Spaniard, Jon Rahm, a player who has since habitually started his professional career only three summers ago. It's a superstar showdown of Ryder Cup mates, modern golf equipment, for which second place does not appeal. And the size of the task is greater than overcoming this triple deficit for Garcia, especially with Tommy Fleetwood and Jason Day among those who are also in the mix.

Rahm can afford a day off better. If he does not win the PLAYERS championship on the third start, the sky will not fall – though he does not expect him to see it that way at the events. Having left halfway through five times, he suddenly has a chance to raise more silverware and improve his own qualifications when it comes to the four major events that are about to take place.

On the other hand, McIlroy was back in the heat of the action, shared half the lead and returned to the field with daylight. On Saturday, this daylight disappeared just as fast as for Garcia. Bogeys at the first two holes brought dozens of players back into conversation. Rahm relentlessly took his chance.

Despite an unfavorable start, McIlroy played well for parts of his round, dismantling the par three-eighths with a crossfade of the ball and moving with two hips to the eleven-par-11. He has a great heart for the way he has stabilized the ship, even if the chance to gain a healthy leadership role has begged.

So remains a tasty final round in which McIlroy has to deal with the problems of recent years. When he faces a world-class opponent in a high-class event, he simply has not delivered: 74 next to Patrick Reed in Augusta, 73 next to Justin Thomas in Firestone, 74 next to Tiger Woods in East Lake. These are numbers that make him wince, and it does not matter if he's in the last or in the penultimate group. The questions remain.

Sunday gives him the chance to win not only a major tournament on the 10th attempt, but to end one of the most frustrating sequences in his career. Maybe he feels he has to take it.

Five years ago – well, one thousand, seven hundred and two, to be exact – McIlroy cut off in the second round of the Open Championship to secure the opening 66. The night before, questions were asked, especially as to the problem with Friday's McIlroy had scored a second round 78 in Scotland a week earlier and a second round 78 in front of the Memorial before the Memorial. Both times, day one ended up front.

In Hoylake he made the first hole in round two. here we go again, And then he made seven of the following 17 birdies, McIlroy at his best, and answered a question that had just turned from a whisper to the microphone of the media center. It had echoes of his very first major, who was unleashed only a few months after he had missed a fabulous opportunity in Augusta, and it sparked the best summer of his career, whose memories are now turning a long way off. Backs-to-the-wall stuff: In these moments, the best players are proud.

A round of golf. It is important.