NORTON, Mass. -- In the 477 days between Rory McIlroy's last PGA Tour victory and his ultra-impressive, come-from-behind triumph at the Deutsche Bank Championship on Monday afternoon, he's been the subject of massive critical analysis.
He's been condemned for too few title contentions and too many back-door top-10s. Blasted for working out too much. Chided for not caring enough about his game -- or possibly caring too much. Razzed for not supporting the Olympics and castigated for comments about growing the game.
Ask him which criticism is most unfair and he points to the one about his workout regimen, but quickly concedes that any judgment of his on-course performance is fair game.
"I don't know if any criticism is unfair," McIlroy said after a final-round 65 lifted him from a 6-stroke deficit to a 2-stroke victory. "With my game, the critics and the analysts and everyone that are out there, they're educated about golf, so they for the most part know what they're talking about. A criticism of my golf game, I take it, and I know what I need to work on -- and sometimes those people point out the obvious."
The obvious in this case was so obvious that he didn't even need to mention it. That's because all of those criticisms put together didn't equal the negative reviews about his putting.
And for good reason.
By his own admission, McIlroy's putting has largely been abysmal this year. If you don't believe him, just take a look at his PGA Tour ranks: Entering this week, he was 117th in putts per round, 130th in strokes gained putting, 165th in total putting, 189th in putting inside 10 feet and 193rd in three-putt avoidance.
Most players would lose their cards with these numbers. McIlroy is such a good ball striker that he was simply losing tournaments.
Just a week ago, he did something about it. He switched from a Nike putter to a Scotty Cameron mallet-style model and formalized a working relationship with putting guru Phil Kenyon, who has previously helped the likes of Henrik Stenson and Louis Oosthuizen.
Something clicked. Check that: Everything clicked.
At TPC Boston, McIlroy's putting stats were a complete turnaround. He finished seventh in strokes gained putting and first in putting average, and he endured just a lone three-putt all week.
To paraphrase Happy Gilmore: Somebody learned how to putt -- uh-oh.
"It's just incredible, this game, how quickly things can change and how quickly things can turn around," he explained. "It's been a great lesson for me this week not to get down on myself, to stay patient."
Those words illustrated not only his reversal on the greens but also an epic bounce-back after an inauspicious beginning to the tournament.
Through his opening three holes on Friday morning, McIlroy was already 4 over par -- just two spots away from last place on the leaderboard. He played the remaining 15 holes in 4 under and then posted progressive scores of 67-66-65, all while pointing to that Friday comeback as the key component.
"I thought it's a great opportunity being 4 over through three holes to do something that I had never done before, to be in that position and go on and win a golf tournament," he said. "I think even finishing in the top 10 after that start on Friday would have been a very respectable result, but to be sitting up here and have won the tournament, I'm very proud of myself for that."
McIlroy cited an ever-increasing maturity level and a reluctance to get down on himself as the reasons for this week's win. That much is true, but so is this: Just a few weeks ago, he wouldn't have been able to make this comeback because he wasn't putting well enough.
That's right. The guy who ranked so far down the list on putting ranks this season won because of his putting this week.
His world-class peers took notice, too.
Adam Scott: "He's remarkable because he's a bit Teflon-coated, Rory. He gets criticized a lot, everything analyzed, and he's very patient, I think, with it all. To me, it looks like he hasn't got so frustrated this year -- he's just kept doing his thing. And this week he's kind of found some magic in his fingers or something and he's holing everything."
Jordan Spieth: "The last two weeks, he's been on the practice green every time I've been there, and before and after. I feel like I work hard on my putting, and he's worked as hard as anybody in the past two weeks on his putting. It's just a little bit of confidence. I mean, it seems to be working for him now."
Jason Day: "Over the last few days, he's obviously playing pretty well. It's been tough conditions and he thrives under these conditions with his ball striking. And if he gets hot on the greens..."
Day didn't need to finish that sentence.
If McIlroy gets hot with his putting, this is exactly what happens: He finishes the day clutching a big trophy.
That much is obvious, just as obvious as the season-long criticism about his putting -- criticism that will disappear after his long-awaited triumph.