It's Time to Give Rory McIlroy a Break
WHAT’S a man supposed to do? Three appearances on the European Tour in 2018, two runners-up finishes, one third-place finish, second in the Race to Dubai and yet everywhere you look on the Internet you will find people pontificating about what on earth is wrong with Rory McIlroy.
In America he also won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and finished fifth at The Masters. By most people’s standards, it amounts to a pretty decent body of work. But McIlroy isn’t most people.
If he does have a problem, it is not difficult to discover where the root of it might lie. He is widely regarded as being one of the best drivers of a golf ball ever to have walked the earth. But is he? Not this season. He averages a phenomenal 316 yards from the tee but, crucially, he only hits 55.73% of all fairways.
His putting is constantly criticised, especially when it comes to the really short ones. Well, heading into the Memorial Tournament he hadn’t missed a single putt from three feet or less and leads the statistics. However, when you get to the crucial eight-footers, it is a different story. This season he has only made 50% of his putts from eight feet and under, and that puts him in a miserable 122nd place. For all that, his stroke average is an impressive 69.962.
Naturally enough, he was bitterly disappointed not to have won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth after leading the field by three shots after 36 holes. He opened with rounds of 67 and 65 and playing partner Alex Noren described the 65 as the best round he had ever seen - this from a man who shot a 62 on the same course to win the tournament 12 months earlier.
“It’s hard to draw off of it when it’s that good. I really wanted to be the first on the tee to make a birdie, to get the honour and then you don’t have to hit after that 330 driver or 300-yard three-wood,” said Noren. “It’s tough because it’s almost like you’re trying to play better than you need to when you see that. It’s just shot after shot after shot. It’s impressive. It’s almost like you put more pressure on yourself when he just hits before you or something like that. Obviously you shouldn’t think about that but it’s tough not to.”
When all was done and dusted, McIlroy said that despite those opening rounds he hadn’t really been on his game all week. He closed with rounds of 71 and 70. Not disastrous by anybody’s standards but both rounds were largely constructed on the back of strong finishes, and it was never going to be good enough to fend off the best in Europe.
The Northern Irishman claims he has been working on swing changes with his coach, Michael Bannon, though why on earth you would want to change a swing such as that McIlroy possesses is anybody’s guess. “I still feel like there’s a bit of work to do. I’m still hitting some great shots. There were a couple of loose ones out there, so it’s still not 100% where I want it but it’s getting there. It’s going in the right direction.
“The couple of shots that got me on Saturday I missed to the right and then [on Sunday] the shots that cost me were missing left. When you have the two sides of the course in play, it’s a little difficult. If you could just take one side out of play, then at least you know what your miss is and you can sort of play against that.
“As a tournament goes on, you’re not spending as much time on the range because you’re into play mode. Maybe I just got away from a few of the things I was working on at the start of the week, which is the way, when you get under pressure and you’re forced to hit shots out on the course, you revert back to what you’ve been doing. There was a bit of that.”
And then he began to sound like Tiger Woods. In recent years the 14-time major champion has explained away poor rounds and disappointing finishes by telling the world that he has been working on things and that it was all about to click into gear. McIlroy said: “It’s close, it’s very close. I’ve given myself a great chance, I didn’t quite pull it off but it’s not far away. I get a bit down on myself because my expectations are high, and with a 36-hole lead, I should have closed it out this week.”
It is all too easy to be critical of McIlroy and he only has himself to blame on account of the incredibly high standards he has set since he first burst upon the scene as a brilliant teenager destined to dominate the game. He is 29 years old and he has four majors to his credit.
We have all started to turn the microscope on him after his performance in the final round of the 2018 Masters, when he tumbled down the leaderboard and ended up shutting a 74. It has been described in many places as a meltdown. It was no such thing.
Yes, it was a poor round round. And it was all the more disappointing because it occurred at the major he needs to win to complete the career Grand Slam. He did himself few favours by appearing to give up midway through the round when a couple of eagles at the 13th and 15th would have turned things around. And we once again saw his shoulders slump during the final round at Wentworth when it was obvious that his golf swing was out of sync.
But in anybody else’s hands, that final round of 70 at Wentworth might easily have been six or seven shots worse. And let’s not forget that he missed a putt for eagle of the 72nd green by a fraction. Had it dropped, Francesco Molinari’s six-foot putt would have looked an awful lot longer.
With three majors still to come in 2018, plus the Ryder Cup in Paris, McIlroy could yet have one of the best years of his life. Remember that back in 2011, when he suffered a proper meltdown at The Masters, he went on to win the US Open. The time has surely come to give the guy a break.
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