Four top-10s in six starts would have most players doing handstands. The problem is that two-time major winner and world No 2 Rory McIlroy is not most players.
Five months into his first season as a Nike Golf star - his first since winning five times in 2012 and capturing the money title and Player of the Year awards in both Europe and the US - McIlroy is surprised that he’s still searching for his first win of the year.
To make matters worse, Tiger Woods, the man who has supplanted him as world No 1, has won four of his last six strokeplay starts.
Given that scenario it’s no wonder the bookies are protecting themselves again a successful defence and 79th PGA Tour win for Woods in the Memorial Tournament at Jack Nicklaus’s Muirfield Village this week.
McIlroy managed to miss the cut on his last outing in the BMW PGA at Wentworth where he was never at ease in the freezing conditions. His last US tour start yielded a share of eighth in The Players, however, and he insisted yesterday that he’s simply searching for a spark in Ohio and the chance to ride some momentum into the US Open in a fortnight’s time.
Holing a few putts would help and as the PGA Tour’s Jonathan Wall points out, the Nike Method putter he jetissoned at Wentworth remains in the locker. He’s sticking with the trusty Scotty Cameron for now.
Putting has certainly not been McIlroy’s friend this season but he’s worked with Dave Stockton this week and feels it’s “coming around”.
Asked if he would have been surprised, given his 2012 season, if someone had told him that he’d been winless by the end of May, McIlroy said: “Yeah, I would have been.”
But when asked to put his finger on what was holding him back, he said: “My misses this year have just been too wide. Last year if I missed fairway or missed a shot, it wasn’t by much. This year it just seems that the misses have been big and have cost me. I am thinking back to Augusta and third day. I missed a couple of tee shots right on seven (bogey) and 11 (triple bogey) which cost me on Saturday.
“Sometimes it is not about how good your good shots are but how much damage your bad shots do to you. If you can limit that as much as you can, it’s always going to be a good thing.”
McIlroy has been here before, of course.
In 2011 he turned it all around by winning the US Open and again last year he overcame a mini slump in the spring and early summer [four missed cuts in five starts] by finding a “spark” in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Akron and using that to light the rocket that saw him soar to his second eight-shot win in a major championship at Kiawah Island the following week. He went on to win in consecutive starts in the FedEx Cup playoffs and then took the season-ending title in Dubai to wrap up the European Tour money title.
“I’m staing as patient as possible and going about my business and just letting it happen,” he said.
He’s still confident his game is simmering nicely and knows that had it not been for some phenomenal play by Scot Martin Laird down the stretch in San Antonio, he would have won the Texas Valero Open rather than just finishing second.
Quite apart from his costly misses, McIlroy needs his putter to warm up.
“I feel like I am playing pretty well but just not getting as much out of it in terms of efficiency,”said the 24-year old, who will partner Bubba Watson and Justin Rose. “Sometimes you go out and it doesn’t look like you are going to shoot a great score but you turn it into a 69 or a 68. That’s sort of what I was doing last year…
“It sort of feels like I am waiting for that week when everything clicks into place and I get a bit of momentum from that, like last year when I got the top five in Akron before the PGA.
“That gave me a little bit of momentum and I was able to kick on from there. I am just waiting for one of those weeks.”
Apart from Woods, who said it was time to move on from the Sergio Garcia controversy, McIlroy is joined in Ohio by Shane Lowry, who can still qualify for the US Open if he makes the world’s top 60 by June 10.
The Offaly man, who is ranked 77th in the world, has also secured a sponsor’s invitation for next week’s FedEx St Jude Classic in Memphis.