FIRSTLY, he said he may not play again after the US PGA Championship. Then he hinted that the FedEx play-offs would bring his year to an end.

And then he added the British Masters and Dunhill Links Championship to a prolonged wind down that has made the decommissioning of the Sellafield nuclear power plant look like a brisk shut-up of the shop.

Finally, though, Rory McIlroy’s close-season has started. A hum-drum final round over the Old Course in the Dunhill Links on Sunday was, by his own admission, somewhat typical of the way a frustrating, injury-blighted campaign has unravelled.

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He enjoyed a final blether with some golf writers in the Auld Grey Toun before retreating from the spotlight and embarking on a three-month stretch of rest, recovery and some robust preparations for the new year.

“The most frustrating thing has been the fact that I’ve not been able to work on my game the way I wanted,” reflected the 28-year-old of the hindrance of that rib injury which has caused so much grumbling and griping during a stop-start year. When you’re a golfing thoroughbred like McIlroy, you want to be at the races.

“On the golf course, I was hitting shots that I don’t normally hit but I knew why that was.,” he added. “I just couldn’t hit the amount of golf balls I needed to hit to be consistent with my swing and to be consistent with what I was trying to do.

“Quail Hollow (at the US PGA Championship) was the one for me because that’s a course that I’ve been so good on before and I felt like it was a great chance to add to that major tally.

“It was a big opportunity for me but I just wasn’t in complete control of my game. I finished tied 20th or something and I was so dejected because I couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel this year.

“I didn’t see myself getting into contention because if you are not putting the work in and you have all these sort of symptoms and you’re just not feeling quite like you should be, you’re sort of thinking, ‘what’s the point?’

“So it’s nice to be able to step away and take this time. I’m going to be in the gym for the next eight weeks, getting myself ready to hit balls again and be physically right, and then I can really practice and work hard and get ready for the first few events of next year.”

At 28, McIlroy, who has been a touring pro now for a decade, has plenty of golfing life left in him but he recently conceded that it’s a young man’s game and he is well aware of the new waves of talent that keep washing over the global game.

In 2017, it’s been McIlroy who has been casting the envious glances as twenty somethings like Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka waltzed off with the Open, the US PGA and the US Open respectively.

“I’m still confident that I have the ability to do it,” insisted the four-time major champion. “Golf and the quality of golf out there now has only got better. I’ve been able to win tournaments against the best players in the world and I’m confident that I’ll be able to do that again.

“A golfer’s prime should be sort of late 20s, early 30s. What I’ve been able to do over these past 10 years and what I’ve been able to learn, I can put into the next 10 and be an even better golfer.”

The 2018 PGA Tour season in the US is already underway while the European Tour is building towards its Final Series.

McIlroy will not be seen for a while yet as the global golf scene roars on unabated but he’s hoping to be back to top form by the time spring is in the air and all roads lead to Augusta.

“I had planned on playing a heavy schedule into the Masters this year and that didn’t pan out because I missed a few events because of injury,” said McIlroy, who needs a Green Jacket to complete the career Grand Slam.

“I plan on playing a heavy schedule going into Augusta next year, though. It would be nice to get a win or two heading into Augusta so I could get my confidence up and feel like I’ve really hit the ground running.

“But, short-term, there are a lot of goals I’ve set myself. If I can achieve all these little goals that I’ve set myself within the next three months, I’ll be fully prepared to go into next year.”

And with that, he was off. Some of the golf writers won’t know what