To do this, we specifically analyzed just the events where Rory was able to collect Official World Golf Ranking points, and only the four-month time frame from the conclusion of the FedEx Cup season to the end of January.
Here then is how Rory's results looked between his final 2012 FedEx Cup event and Jan. 29, 2013:
And here's how his results look between his final 2013 FedEx Cup event and Jan. 29, 2014:
Now for a side-by-side look:
What can we gather from this solid stretch from Rory? Well, perhaps we shouldn't jump to any conclusions that this season will be remarkably different from a year ago since he's actually playing at a level almost identical to this point in 2013.
Despite competing in two fewer events a year ago, Rory finished with as many wins and top-three finishes as he has now. His scoring average, too, was a touch lower. And before Thursday's 63, Rory's low round in both time periods was a 65, shot once each time.
What's perhaps more interesting is how Rory does when he plays poorly now compared to a year ago. In 2012-13, Rory finished either really good -- top three or better -- or really bad, as in missed cut. In 2013-14, his performances have been less erratic -- no missed cuts and more top 10s. That's why his average point total per start is slightly higher this year. Granted, it's a small sample size.*
(*The one thing we haven't touched upon here, of course, is the complicating factor of McIlroy's equipment switch from Titleist to Nike clubs at the beginning of 2013. How large a role that played in his subsequent struggles last year is subject for debate. Presumably, though, that factor potentially contributing to his 2013 slump isn't a variable he'll be fighting in 2014.)
Either way, a win in Dubai would change some things. Most notably, it would give him about 48 World Ranking points, meaning that, on paper, he'd be playing better than at this point last year.
Anything outside of that, however, and the question of whether he's really playing better right now than he was 12 months ago remains.