By Tony Jimenez
LONDON (Reuters) - Only a special performer can live up to a seismic pre-season prediction and, when he is old and gray and sitting in his rocking chair, Rory McIlroy will look back at 2014 as the year he became a true golfing great.
The tousle-haired Northern Irishman also ruled the roost two years ago, winning five times around the world, but a change of equipment and off-course distractions in 2013 caused a slump in form that saw him slide to sixth in the rankings.
Twelve months ago serious questions were being asked about McIlroy's future but he responded like a champion, outplaying Adam Scott to end a year-long title drought at the Australian Open in December.
He then boasted about his plans for the season in an interview with the BBC in January.
"I won a major in 2011 and 2012 but not in 2013 so I'll try to make up for that with two this year," said McIlroy.
He was as good as his word, registering back-to-back major victories in the British Open and U.S. PGA Championship.
McIlroy also won the European Tour's flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio in August, and played an integral role in Europe's Ryder Cup victory in September.
His resurgence came about despite more dramas away from the course.
McIlroy announced his split from fiancee Caroline Wozniacki at Wentworth and is still involved in a legal dispute with his former agents that will continue in 2015.
"I learned a lot from it," the world number one said last month. "I feel I came through this year stronger and wiser."
It was his remarkable victory at Wentworth that provided the launch pad for his stellar season.
The iconic West Course on the outskirts of London has never been McIlroy's favorite piece of real estate but he shrugged off his indifference to the layout, and his much-publicized split with Wozniacki, to score a fairytale victory.
"I can't explain it," said McIlroy after pocketing the first prize of $1 million. "It's been a week of very mixed emotions but I'm sitting here looking at this trophy going, 'How the hell did it happen?'."
The 25-year-old then repelled a last-round charge from Sergio Garcia to capture the first British Open title of his career at Hoylake in July.
McIlroy carried a six-shot lead into the final day and had to keep the jitters in check to win golf's oldest major by two strokes.
He made it two wins in as many tournament appearances, snatching the world number one ranking away from Scott in the process, by easing to another two-shot triumph in Ohio.
McIlroy followed up by sealing a rare hat-trick of victories at the U.S. PGA Championship in Kentucky.
"I didn't think in my wildest dreams I'd have a summer like this," was his reaction after collecting the fourth major crown of his career.
Not surprisingly McIlroy succumbed to fatigue after a hectic 10-week run and narrowly failed to win the U.S. PGA Tour's money-spinning FedExCup series in September.
However, he lit up the final day of the Ryder Cup in Scotland, spearheading Europe's victory charge with a 5 & 4 demolition of Rickie Fowler in the singles that included four birdies and an eagle in a barnstorming six-hole start.
McIlroy then capped his best-ever season by finishing top of the European money-list in November.
Chief executive George O'Grady described McIlroy as a "credit to himself and to the European Tour".
"It says something about his outstanding form that Rory ends the year as the dominant player not only on our tour but on the world stage," said O'Grady.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)