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Will Rory McIlroy improve in 2018?

In a golfing year which was bursting at the seams with great golf and good news stories, rarely would a week go by without murmurings around the decline of Rory McIlroy's performance level, while some commentators would go so far as to question whether he would ever return to his major-winning best.

Premature though these statements may have been, they do help demonstrate the rather stuttering nature of Rory's game over the past two years or so. A niggling rib injury was a source of much frustration throughout 2017 and he would never truly be afforded the ability to play at full throttle before shutting down his season early back in October.

Off-course fulfillment

What amounted to somewhat of a disappointing 2017 on the course sat in stark contrast to a highly contented 12 months off it as the 28-year-old wed his former PGA employee girlfriend, Erica Stoll, in a lavish ceremony at Ashford Castle, Co. Mayo back in April.

This past year also saw a serious boost to his financial position by securing long-term deals with both Nike and TaylorMade to a point where 12-month earnings stood at £23.68M and significantly outstripped that of his peers.

Catch Rory's ceremonial TaylorMade bag switch from back in May:

By comparison, Dustin Johnson accumulated less than half that figure in a year where he spent more than ten months as world number one.

So, not all bad news then.

What can we expect in 2018?

In early December Rory gave us an outline of his playing commitments for early 2018. His first stop in a jam-packed playing schedule will be a trip to the United Arab Emirates for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, a tournament where he has finished runner-up on four separate occasions.

If he opts to play in the two pre-Augusta WGC events then we will see the four-time major winner at nine events in 10 weeks giving ample opportunity to fine-tune the game before another tilt at completing the career grand slam.

Now sitting down in 11th place in the Official World Golf Rankings, Rory has a sizeable task if he is to return to the summit of world golf. With DJ, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas all playing consistently well - and having locked down the top three world ranking positions - it will take a standout year if he is to catch the American triumvirate.

Remember when Rory wowed the golfing world at Congressional to win his first major by eight strokes?

Much will depend on the ability to swing pain-free and the on-course relationship with new caddie and childhood best friend Harry Diamond after taking the decision to extend the partnership into 2018.

If the Northern Irishman's injury problems are truly in the rearview mirror, we see it as highly unlikely that 2018 could pass us by without a significant upturn in fortunes. While capturing the career grand slam may be a step too far at this stage, we could easily see a few tournament wins before the year is out.

Let's all keep our fingers crossed in the hope that a player who was once viewed as a possible dominating force in world golf can reinvigorate his game and get back to his unquestionably awesome best.

Do you think we will see a Rory win in 2018? Is the career grand slam still on? Let us know below.