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The knock on golfers in the post-Tiiger era is that money has made them soft. Paychecks with more zeroes in a weekend than Jack and Arnie saw in a decade. Private jets and personal chefs and equipment specialists and individual coaches and teams of attendants ready to service every need. Why worry about wins when finishing 124th on the PGA Tour still makes you a millionaire?
Counterpoint: Rory McIlroy, so enraged over a loss this weekend that he apparently shredded his shirt in a rage:
He's snapped a club over his knee, helicoptered another into a pond at Doral and now it seems Rory McIlroy has taken his loss in Dubai out on his shirt (photo @TourMiss). Say what you will but the dude is passionate. pic.twitter.com/NTJJrP32ec
— Rex Hoggard (@RexHoggardGC) November 21, 2021
Some serious post-Hulk-smash energy there out of McIlroy.
The backstory: McIlroy was the 54-hole leader at the DP World Tour Championship in Abu Dhabi, in line to win the event for the third time. But as often happens with McIlroy, fast starts don’t translate to strong finishes.
This time around, McIlroy was a victim of his own accuracy. On the approach to 15, still holding a share of the lead, McIlroy drilled the flagstick from 36 yards away, ending up in a greenside bunker:
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 21, 2021
McIlroy bogeyed that hole and the 16th while Collin Morikawa was in a dead sprint toward the finish line. Morikawa birdied 17 and 18 to win by three strokes, becoming the first American to win the European Tour’s season-long Race to Dubai title.
Meanwhile, McIlroy also bogeyed the 18th, dropping a shot in the water and eventually finishing seven strokes behind Morikawa. McIlroy declined to speak to media afterward, and a later photo captured him in that shredded shirt … which most definitely is not a new Nike fashion. Not yet, anyway.
This isn't McIlroy's first explosion of rage; he's snapped some clubs and helicoptered others. Earlier this fall, he threw a club at Liberty National so far it wasn't found for nearly a week. Certainly this will provoke the usual criticism from the usual segment of golf fandom that prizes decorum over passion, but McIlroy's perfectly within his rights to take out frustrations on an innocent shirt.
The question of how much temper tantrums hurt or harm a golfer's game has swirled around the sport since the first Scotsman missed the first three-foot putt back in the 19th century. Tantrums reveal passion at best, lack of composure at worst. But for one of McIlroy's contemporaries, Rory's rages run far more toward the former than the latter:
I love this. @McIlroyRory works his ass off and expects highly of himself, and is frustrated when it doesn't go well. Never treats people with disrespect, never makes a fool of himself, just plays with fire and passion. Why he's as successful as he is and one of my favorites 🙌 https://t.co/wFkEbxnBZO
— Justin Thomas (@JustinThomas34) November 21, 2021
"I love this," Justin Thomas tweeted. "@McilroyRory works his ass off and expects highly of himself, and is frustrated when it doesn't go well. Never treats people with disrespect, never makes a fool of himself, just plays with fire and passion. Why he's as successful as he is and one of my favorites."
By the most established standard of greatness in golf — majors won — McIlroy's career, with four majors, is already among the greatest in the sport's history. But given that he hasn't won one since 2014, there's an ever-present tinge of what-if around him. McIlroy has stayed within sight of victory — he has 13 top-10 finishes since that last major victory, albeit often in backdoor-cover fashion — and he continues to win all over the globe, most recently last month at the CJ Cup in Las Vegas.
McIlroy's fire and passion, in Thomas' words, are obvious, as is his desire to win. His game's still among the sport's elite. And he can shred all the shirts he wants if it'll get him closer to wearing a green jacket to cover them.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.