No Need for Rory McIlroy to Press the Panic Button
WE MAY all be in a panic about Rory McIlroy’s current malaise and you can be absolutely certain that he will not have enjoyed his recent run of form. But rest assured, he will be back. And don’t believe a word of what he had to say after his disappointing performance in the US PGA Championship at Harding Park.
McIroy was world number one when play restarted on the PGA Tour. He had been absolutely flying before Covid-19 brought sport around the world to a grinding halt. In six starts he had one victory and had not finished outside the top five. Since the return his best finish is a tie for 11th at the Travelers Championship and he could only manage a tie for 33rd at Harding Park - a course that should have been made for his long, accurate driving. The problem was that he could barely find a fairway, and it has been that way since he returned.
He finished the week 11 shots behind winner Collin Morikawa. He has been overtaken in the world rankings, and was down to third ahead of the Wyndham Championship. And he is sliding down the FedEx Cup standings and has a mountain to climb if he is to win it again.
He cut a pretty dejected figure at Harding Park but, just as he always has, he fronted up to the press. When Tiger Woods has played poorly, he will always try to find some positives. His best game is never far away - or so he would have us believe. McIlroy is a different matter. He has always worn his heart on his sleeve.
“Maybe I am just not as good as I used to be,” said the 31-year-old somewhat tongue in cheek in response to a question. “I can’t really put my finger on it. I go out there and I try my very best every single day. I feel like the golf that I have played in the majors has been sort of similar to the golf that I have played outside of them, and I have won some big events and played well. And I had a good season last season.
“Some days I play better than others. I have just got to keep going and keep persisting and see if I can do better the next time.”
McIlroy doesn’t need anybody to remind him that it is six years since his last major victory at the 2014 US PGA Championship. And although there have been plenty of top-10 finishes in the majors, there have been few serious challenges. However, he still has a chance to complete the career grand slam when he tees off in The Masters at Augusta later this year - and few would bet against him contending at a golf course where he should already have won on at least two occasions.
So why shouldn’t we panic? As gifted as McIlroy is, he has always been streaky player. When he is good, he is well nigh unbeatable. But when he misses fairways and the putts refuse to drop, his head falls and he looks like an ordinary mortal. And there have been several alarming slumps throughout his magnificent career. He is a player who struggles to put a good score together when he is not at his best. Period.
He has also made it clear that he is struggling to find his best form while competing without spectators. Like Woods and many other leading lights in the sport, McIlroy is at his best when feeding off the atmosphere created by enthusiastic galleries. If you doubt it, just look at some of the footage of his reactions at the Ryder Cup.
And don’t think for one second that McIlroy genuinely believes he isn’t as good as he was when the season came to a halt. He says that he is looking for something, and he will find it. There is no way under the sun that McIlroy will finish his career with the four majors he currently has to his credit. They key to his game is his driving. When he sorts that out again - and he surely will - he will return to the winner’s circle. And it will happen sooner rather than later.
Whether we can say the same about Woods is an entirely different matter. He arrived at Harding Park seriously undercooked and raised expectations after an opening round of 68, but he never contended after that. No matter how good you are, no matter how many majors you have won, you need competitive rounds under you belt to keep contending and it is increasingly beginning to look like Woods’ battered body is going to prevent that from happening. You can never rule him out at Augusta, a course he loves and knows like the back of his hand. But it is highly unlikely that he will ever again be able to find a way to win a US Open or a US PGA Championship, where accuracy from the tee is at a premium.
Morikawa proved at Harding Park that you don’t need to hit the ball 340 yards. But you do need to find the short grass on a consistent basis. Just ask McIlroy, Woods and even Bryson DeChambeau, who is beginning to learn that you simply cannot overpower every golf course you play.
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