A crucial off-season awaits for the four-time Major Champion after a winless 2017

Rory McIlroy Ready For ‘Very Important’ Winter Break 

Rory McIlroy won’t play professional golf until 2018 after concluding a season that’s been arguably the most disappointing of his career to date.

The 28-year-old hasn’t won on either the European or PGA Tour this year – the first time he’s endured a winless campaign since 2008.

The Ulsterman suffered a rib injury during January’s South African Open and was never able to fully recover as the demands of a gruelling season took hold. Still, he was also plagued by various short-game and putting woes.

McIlroy recognises he has work to do in that area and says he will dedicate a lot of time to short-game improvement as he gives his body time to recuperate in the off-season.

Looking at the statistics, it’s clear where his current deficiencies lie.

On the PGA Tour this season, he ranked 140th in Strokes Gained: Putting and 176th in Total Putting. It was a similar story in 2016 – he ranked 135th in Strokes Gained: Putting and 153rd in Total Putting.

Those figures don’t make for positive reading when you consider he’s been working with renowned putting coach Phil Kenyon for some time.

Intriguingly, he ranked 21st in Putts Per Round on the European Tour this season.

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Driving remains the strength of his game – he ranked third this season in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee and first in Driving Distance (317.2 yards).

We must give credence to the fact he hits a lot of greens as a result – so he’s always going to have more putts than a well-practiced scrambler who misses a lot of putting surfaces in regulation – but putting is clearly an area he needs to improve on.

His wedge play could also be viewed as an equally significant weakness, given how many lofted clubs he hits into greens as a result of his prodigious power.

He averages 29’6” from the hole on approaches between 125 and 150 yards, which is 190th on the PGA Tour. That simply isn’t good enough.

You could argue that his injury has been a blessing in disguise as it’s forced him to identify his weaknesses and limited his off-season practice schedule.

He needs to rest his ribs and ensure he doesn’t swing vigorously at the ball – something that should help his rhythm with his wedges and afford him plenty of time on the practice putting green.

At the top level, it’s all about fine margins. Shaving half a stroke off his putts-per-round average and hitting it three feet closer from 125 yards could be the difference between a successful season and another disappointing one.

McIlroy certainly can’t afford to regress in 2018 if he’s serious about realising the lofty goals he set for himself after the conclusion of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

“I want to complete the Career Grand Slam and then try and become the best European golfer ever. I’d like to surpass Nick Faldo, who won six Majors,” he said.

“If I had a career goal, it would be to be the best international golfer ever. Gary Player has nine Majors. I’d like to think I’m going to give myself a chance to get close to that tally.

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“It hasn’t been the year I wanted on the golf course but I feel like I can still salvage something from the rest of this year, even though I’m not playing. I’ve given myself an opportunity to put a lot of good foundations in place.

“These next three months are very important to put some really good things in place.”