Rory McIlroy downbeat after Ryder Cup: Relive his five best performances outside the Majors

Rory McIlroy may have won multiple championships, but he has saved some of his best performances away from the glare of the Major tournaments.

Rory McIlroy was always viewed as a potential European golfing legend.

With his multiple Major Championship wins around the world he has fulfilled that destiny. He has also proved himself a valuable member of the European team in the Ryder Cup.

But last week at Whistling Straits was not among his career highlights - in fact, his disappointing performance left him in tears at the conclusion of his singles victory (his only point of the week).

There is little to play for in 2021 - the significant gongs and baubles have already been assigned - but don't discount a McIlroy win before New Year.

Some of the Northern Irishman's finest performances have come outside the top level of the sport and the last time we saw him in tears after a downbeat effort he sooner bounced back with victory at the Tour Championship.

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Planet Sport looks at five of the best efforts outside the Majors.

2009 Dubai Desert Classic

Everyone needs to start somewhere, right?

McIlroy had first teed it up at European Tour level in 2005, a mere fortnight after his 16th birthday, and failed to break 80 in either round.

He turned professional two years later and had no difficulty winning a card for 2008, but opportunities for the first win were few and far between.

A first round 63 in the European Masters in September offered hope, but he squandered a four-shot 54-hole lead and lost to Jean-Francois Lucquin in extra holes.

It was the first of eight top ten finishes in 11 starts, but the win was stubbornly difficult to find - he even lost another play-off in Hong Kong.

When he thrashed an opening round of 64 at Emirates GC in February 2009 another chance had presented itself.

He kept the foot down, maintained a lead on the field and playing partner Mark O'Meara even insisted that he was better at 19 years of age than Tiger Woods had been.

"Mind-blowing," McIlroy said of the comparison. "I want to keep getting better and concentrate on this week."

He was as good as his word, staying calm to complete win number one as a professional.

"You see guys winning and think it's easy," he said. "It's not and this is definitely a monkey off my back."

2010 Quail Hollow Championship

McIlroy finished second in the 2009 European Tour rankings and announced late in the year that he would be joining the PGA Tour the following year.

The early signs were not good.

He didn't make the last 16 in the WGC World Match Play and couldn't make the top 30 in either the Honda Classic or WGC CA Championship.

He then missed the cut at both the Houston Open and the Masters.

America was beginning to ask questions about the wonder kid.

His quest for a first seasonal top 30 didn't look promising when he only made the weekend of the Quail Hollow Championship by the skin of his teeth, nine shots behind the lead.

However, a third round 66 launched an audacious bid for victory. He was now tied seventh and just four shots back.

Then a final round 62 not only allowed him to catch those at the top of the leaderboard, he more or less lapped them.

The winning margin was four - a turnaround of eight strokes.

McIlroy was jubilant and America persuaded of his promise.

"I flushed it," he said and two days later celebrated his 21st birthday.

2014 BMW PGA Championship

McIlroy's arrival at European Tour HQ Wentworth for the BMW PGA Championship was, to put it mildly, somewhat fraught.

No sooner had he shown up than he dropped the bombshell that he was ending his engagement with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.

What's more, the helter-skelter nature of events were revealed in a statement which read:

"There is no right way to end a relationship that has been so important to two people.

"The problem is mine.

"The wedding invitations issued at the weekend made me realize that I wasn't ready for all that marriage entails."

Not surprisingly the subject became a hotly-discussed one. Perhaps, the fairways became a haven from the scrutiny.

McIlroy had always struggled on the West Course, making just one top 20 in six previous visits. And even when opening 68-71-69 he was still some seven shots off the pace set by 54-hole leader Thomas Bjorn.

Solid through the front nine, he accelerated after the turn, chipping in for birdie at the tenth.

Bjorn faltered and McIlroy pounced.

He got up-and-down from around the green on each of the last three holes to complete a back nine of 32, a round of 66, and a one-shot victory over Shane Lowry.

"Obviously a week of very mixed emotions," he said.

"I'm sitting here looking at this trophy going: 'How the hell did it happen this week?'"

But it did.

2016 Irish Open

McIlroy's home championship had been struggling to find sponsors and he was asked to help out.

Almost immediately the event rediscovered its vigor.

Nonetheless, he was still seeking a first professional win on home turf when the 2016 renewal traveled to The K Club.

In fact, he had missed the cut in all three of his previous starts in the tournament.

In tough conditions he negotiated a promising position, opening with rounds of 67-70-70 to establish a three-shot lead. But he was not to have it all his own way on Sunday.

His first problem was the weather, which disrupted play. The second was a charging Russell Knox who moved one-clear late in the round.

Whereupon McIlroy unleashed two of the most famous blows of his career.

Most-talked about is the 5-wood he launched to within four-feet of the flag at the final hole to set up an eagle and confirm the win.

But he admitted that it was the 3-wood from 271-yards to the heart of the green on the 16th which was the better shot.

It was not only technically more difficult, it also revitalized his challenge.

"To win in front of my home fans and to look up and see my friends and family there is something very special for me," he said and then donated his prize money to his charity, the Rory Foundation.

2019 Tour Championship

The seeds of McIlroy's victory in the PGA Tour's 2019 end-of-season finale were sown both 12 months and four weeks before.

At the same tournament in 2018 he had been thrilled to find himself playing the final round alongside his hero Tiger Woods, but the experience had proved chastening.

Whilst the fans celebrated Woods' sensational victory by breaking out across the fairway on East Lake's 18th hole, McIlroy had nothing but bad memories.

"I didn't enjoy that walk last year like everyone else did," he said. "I played terribly. I got myself into the final group and never took the fight to Tiger."

And then there was the WGC St Jude Invitational a month before his return to East Lake.

On that occasion, he played in the final round with eventual tournament winner Brooks Koepka and again it had not gone according to plan.

"He got one over me in Memphis," he said. "I wanted to get some revenge today."

That's right - McIlroy and Koepka were paired again.

This time there were no mistakes. McIlroy carded 66 and Koepka a 72.

He won the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup and the affection of the galleries, who ended the week chanting his name.

The future

Can McIlroy revive his career? Ahead of the Covid-enforced lockdown he was enjoying a consistent spell which promised more Major Championship glory, yet since the return to action he has looked increasingly lost.

He looks set to take time off following his emotional response to a poor Ryder Cup, but he has also been a fine performer following disappointments, no more so than when winning the 2011 Masters shortly after fluffing the Masters. It would not be entirely surprising if he won before the end of 2021.

But what of next year's Majors? His quest to win at Augusta National will rumble on, but he looks most likely to contend in the Open at St Andrews, one of his favourite courses.

READ MORE: What next for USA's Ryder Cup stars after their demolition of Europe?

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