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Stephen Gallacher: Is 2023 the year Rory McIlroy completes the set?

Rory McIlroy.
Rory McIlroy.

Will 2023 be the year Rory McIlroy completes his career Grand Slam?

I certainly hope so.

The manner in which Rory closed out the 2022 season augurs well for his bid to finally land the elusive missing major, the Masters, in April.

But honestly, tipping anyone for the majors in the first week of January is akin to searching for the smallest needle in the biggest of haystacks.

I feel more confident in tipping potential major winners than trying to whittle each event down to individuals.

It is clear Rory is the man to beat in 2023. To be crowned FedEx Cup champion and the Race to Dubai champion is amazing.

But to win both in the same year is unbelievable.

Yet that’s what Rory did and it is why I see another major title in his future in 2023. Whether it is the one he covets most at Augusta, however, is unclear.

I have a feeling he might have to wait until July for his next major win with Hoylake, a venue he has won at in the past, giving him another Open championship.

But I’ll be rooting for him in Georgia in April.

Rory has competition from US and Europe on his major quest

The other man hoping to join the elite company of Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods of winning all four majors is Jordan Spieth.

He needs the USPGA Championship to complete his set and I’ll be following his first event of the year this week, the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, for an early indication of how his game is looking for the year ahead.

I fully expect another major win for USPGA champion Justin Thomas this year too. He had a terrific season and is an outstanding player who is comfortable on that stage.

Jon Rahm will be a huge threat, particularly in the majors held in the United States. He’s an unbelievable talent and the man best placed to push Rory all the way this year.

DP World Tour Championship winner Jon Rahm. Image: PA

If the two of them were going head-to-head for a major title in the final round I’d pay good money myself to watch it.

But in terms of the American events, the weather will be pivotal in deciding the eventual winner.

If it is soft then I’d confidently put Rory and Rahm at the top of the pile as the favourites.

I really fancy a home winner in the Open too and in terms of Hoylake challengers I must put my pal Shane Lowry in the mix.

The way he closed out victory at the PGA Championship at Wentworth last year was mightily impressive and remember he held off Rory and Rahm to do it too.

Scottish hopefuls chase Ryder Cup place

We cannot forget 2023 is a Ryder Cup year too of course.

I’m all too well aware of it after being given the honour of leading Europe in the Junior Ryder Cup match this year.

As far as Rome is concerned the countdown begins in earnest next week at the Hero Cup.

It’s fantastic to have two Scots to follow in Ewen Ferguson and Bob MacIntyre after they were selected for the Great Britain team to take on continental Europe.

Bob MacIntyre has a Ryder Cup place in his sights this year.

Both are hoping to catch the eye of Luke Donald ahead of the Ryder Cup by doing well next week.

I know from speaking to both how big a goal-making the team is for them this year and I wish them the best of luck.

When I made the team for Gleneagles in 2014 I know how important the team events earlier in the year were to our preparation and I cannot stress enough how vital it is to have the Hero Cup in place.

Any chance to get everyone together and have trial runs should be savoured by Luke and his vice-captains.

Will this be the year tours find common ground?

The elephant in the room of course, remains LIV Golf.

There are some big issues still to be determined too and next month will be a huge one in terms of ramifications for the DP World Tour and the Ryder Cup.

A five-day hearing is planned to hear the arguments about whether DP World Tour players who took up the offer to play LIV Golf events should be allowed to retain their membership in Europe.

If it goes the way of the DP World Tour then it spells the end of Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood, not only as tour members but also as future Ryder Cup captains.

If the players win their legal challenge then we could see them in the team for Rome if they qualify.

It’s impossible to predict what is going to happen but my hope is that whatever the outcome we can find some peace between the various factions this year.

When Tiger Woods speaks, I tend to listen, and if there is a clamour for Greg Norman to step aside it tells me Tiger has a good idea of who would replace Norman as CEO of LIV.

We need a more harmonious approach to all of this. LIV Golf is here to stay by the looks of it but I’m not sure if Norman’s ruthless pursuit of players is helping the profile of the game.

We need olive branches, not more division.

US Women’s Open to make Pebble Beach debut

It is a big year for the women’s game too with the women’s US Open set to take place at Pebble Beach for the first time in July.

I’m delighted to see women’s golf finally getting the spotlight it deserves and we should be seeing the leading players competing for decent money on famous courses.

For me, it is only a matter of time before we have a women’s Masters up and running at Augusta National.

It’s long overdue and I’m sure it would be a fantastic addition to the circuit.