When the world number one is playing like a weekend hacker and a short game magician is struggling to get the ball into the hole from four feet, it would be tempting to believe that the golfing world has been turned on its head.
But Graeme McDowell and Pádraig Harrington are hoping that all will be well before long, and the stars will re-align.
In an ideal world, that will lead to and Irish 1-2-3 in the second World Golf Championship of the season where all eyes will be on the marquee threeball of the game’s top three this afternoon when the struggling Rory McIlroy tees it up with Tiger Woods and Luke Donald.
With $8.5m up for grabs, Woods will be trying to add to his six WGC-Cadillac titles at a water-strewn TPC Blue Monster and eliminate the errors that saw him finish in the middle of the pack in last week’s Honda Classic
But McDowell knows that all the pressure is on McIlroy and while the 23-year old refuses to concede that he has a problem adjusting to his Nike clubs, his stablemate believes the new equipment and the pressures that go with being the No 1 player in the world have taken their toll on his young friend.
“At the end of the day, he’s a well grounded kid from a kind of ‘mediocre’ background with regard to his folks not having a huge amount of wealth,” McDowell said. “But he just sky rocketed into by becoming the No 1 player in the world, signing the biggest golf deal in the world at the minute and becoming one of the most marketable players in world golf. It’s a lot to deal with for a young kid.”
McDowell is constantly surprised with how well McIlroy has dealt with his new status in the game, winning two majors in little more than 14 months. But he argues that the Nike deal has thrown a kink in McIlroy’s psyche.
“He has taken it in his stride unbelievably well,” he said. “It is just not that easy dealing with thoughts inside your head, trying to play for other people, trying to prove things to other people.
“This equipment change was always going to play on his mind to some extent and he really just needs to get a couple of decent rounds under his belt and away he will go.
“Until then there is going to be a lot of inner talk and a lot of distraction in his head. It’s not as easy as he has made the game look the last couple of years. But he’s a phenomenal golfer and he will be back. It’s only a matter of time.”
While McDowell is ‘very happy” with his own game after two top-10 finishes in a row and even more pleased with the improvements in his short game, Harrington has question marks over his wedge play and his putting.
“Ultimately I was trying to hit my wedges a comparable distance at home to what I would on tour, which caused me to end up hitting them too hard,” Harrington said. “I was getting a bit steep on them. At home I should stick to hitting my lob wedge no more than 70 yards whereas on tour I’d hit it 95.
“It’s soft at home and you just end up leaning on them too much and I really struggled with my wedge play. It’s been poor. My wedge play and putting. Those would be the two areas I’ll be watching this week.”