Rory McIlroy raised question marks over the re-designed Blue Monster — and his own resolve when facing taxing courses — when he suggested he might skip Trump National Doral if it were not a World Golf Championship venue.
The world number six struggled to score in the last two rounds of the Cadillac Championship, limping home a frustrated 25th alongside the injured Tiger Woods and sounding keener than ever for a confidence-boosting performance with a month to go before the Masters.
“It has been a tough couple of weeks because Honda isn't an easy course and then you come here, it is almost like you forget how to make birdies," said McIlroy. who plans to see putting coach Dave Stockton when he is in Palm Springs watching Caroline Wozniacki play tennis this week.
“I am all for having a tough golf course and a tough test but it is nice to make some birdies once in a while.”
Asked if he’d go to Doral if it were not a WGC event, he thought long and hard and said: “I don't know. It's a good question. Obviously it is a WGC, so you come.
"If it wasn't? It is a tough course, it depends what you want, if you want to go and play tough courses and feel you will do well round them or go to different ones where you will make birdies."
How McIlroy might tweak his schedule next year remains to be seen.
“It is a tough run; you have the matchplay, the Honda, here, Tampa which is no pushover and then Bay Hill which has got tougher over the years. It is a tough stretch of courses over these few weeks."
Given all that transpired last year, McIlroy still has issues to resolve, despite the confidence boosting win over Adam Scott in the Australian Open last December.
Having started the season well without actually winning in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai, he's still fragile though he insisted on Sunday night: “I am in a better place. I came off the course frustrated, but it is not just me.”
Others complained about the Blue Monster too, but not Graeme McDowell, who revelled in the cut and thrust of his battle Donald Trump's latest trophy course — an insight, perhaps, into the differing mentalities of the two Ulstermen.
Asked if he had any complaints about Doral, he said: “No. It was great. I'd like to see more setups like this on the PGA Tour in general. This is my type of golf. This is US Open, British Open golf. Bay Hill will be just like this; so this is my type of golf. I'm not going to complain at all about the setup. I quite enjoyed it.”
Having contended but failed to win in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and then losing to Harris English at the 19th in the second round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play, he arrived in Miami looking for redemption having fallen apart coming down the stretch in the Honda Classic before redeeming himself somewhat with that towering five wood to the 18th to make the four-man playoff eventually won by Russell Henley.
All looked well when he completed an opening 70 at Doral on Friday morning and then showed some true grit by coming home in 34 to salvage a 74 from the carnage of Friday afternoon.
He went into the weekend tied for eighth place but it proved to be another false dawn for the 24-year old who struggled to a 75 in round three, dumping two balls in the water and running up a pair of tournament wrecking double bogey sevens.
With his title chances all but gone going into the final round, Sunday only served to undermine his confidence a little more as he was driven to distraction by the set up of the new Blue Monster and simply never made any ground as putt after putt slipped by the edge en route to a 74.
Confidence is crucial for all top players but McIlroy’s has not been boosted by some punishing tests recently and he’s got issues to resolve over the next month if he’s to go to Augusta National from the Shell Houston Open with high hopes of winning that first green jacket.
“I'll be with Caroline for as long as she is in the tournament at Indian Wells, then I'll come back to Florida and spent two weeks at home,” he said of his immediate plans that involved seeing his swing coach Michael Bannon and putting guru Stockton.
“I've got Michael Bannon and (fitness coach) Steve McGregor coming over the week of Bay Hill so I'll do some good work then. I'll prepare for Houston and head to Augusta to see the place there.
“I have one more tournament in which to get myself in the mix before Augusta. I feel like my game is pretty much there, I am going to catch up with the Stocktons when I am in California this week and do some work with them.
"That should be productive, as should a good couple of weeks at home preparing for Houston and the Masters. Dave will probably come to Houston as well. I will see him for a couple of days in Palm Springs this week too, though. I'll be in Augusta the Monday and Tuesday of Houston then get into Houston Tuesday night.”
The Holywood star is not too concerned about his swing but he made it clear that struggling for pars is not the best preparation for Augusta and it remains to be seen how he will adjust his schedule in the future given the venues.
“There's nothing specific I feel I need to work on with Michael, it is just nice for him to get a look at me every now and again,” he said. “He was at the Honda but not here with me this week. He'll be back for Houston and the Masters, as well."
Like McIlroy, McDowell is also confident he’ll be ready for Augusta after finishing joint ninth behind new US star Patrick Reed at Doral.
Confident he will have a new driver dialled in by then, McDowell said: "The new Srixon driver is a step in the right direction. It’s not perfect yet but getting there.
"Driving the ball is the key to me playing well at Augusta. So I've got my chipping and putting where I want it to be. I've just got to get my driver in the fairway and go from there really."
How Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell compared at Doral
- Greens in regulation: McIlroy T8 62% — McDowell T28 58%
- Driving accuracy: McIlroy T37 46% — McDowell T6 57%
- Scrambling: McIlroy T54 (12/27) 44.44% — McDowell T31 (16/30) 53.33%
- Putting - Strokes gained: McIlroy 62nd (-1.301) — McDowell 5th (+1.271)
- Par-5s: McIlroy Level — McDowell 3 under (Reed 9 under)