"What's wrong with Rory? It's not his putting, it's focus" - McGinley
Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Asking what’s wrong with Rory McIlroy is a bit like that old joke about George Best, Miss World and the bed covered in £50 notes.

When a player racks up six Top-10 finishes from nine strokeplay starts, there really shouldn’t be any reason to start pressing alarm bells.

But when that player is four-time major winner and former world No 1 McIlroy, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that something is eating the pride of Holywood, Co Down.

If he doesn’t break a run of three successive missed cuts in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and lift the title at The K Club on Sunday evening, McIlroy will have gone six months without winning a tournament.

That’s no big deal if you are a journeyman, but for a player of McIlroy’s calibre it would mark his longest winless drought since he ended a 12 month wait for a victory at the Australian Open in 2013.

We all know what happened next — McIlroy won four times in 2014, including two majors, a WGC and the BMW PGA.

But even winning 2014 Ryder Cup skipper Paul McGinley is at a loss to explain what’s not quite firing for McIlroy right now, though he suspects it’s all down to a small lack of confidence and concentration rather than anything to do with his putting, which is becoming increasingly streaky.

And after seeing him finish a distant 12th behind world No 1 Jason Day in The Players, McGinley believes the former world No 1 needs to learn how to forget his negative thoughts quickly so he can leave his frustrations behind him.

Speaking at The K Club yesterday where he joined Peter Lawrie, Gavin Moynihan and amateur Jack Hume for a fourball, McGinley said: “Arnold Palmer had a quote that I didn’t understand when I was a boy, but now I understand it perfectly. 

“He used to say, ‘The greatest gift you need mentally in this game is the ability to forget.’ Now I understands exactly what he meant.”

McIlroy admitted that he pulled his tee shot into the water at the par-three 13th in Sunday night because he was still annoyed about missing a seven-foot birdie putt on the 12th.

And McGinley said: “That’s the point I am making. Every game is a separate tournament and Jason Day was a great example of it yesterday.

“What is impressive about him is that he is finding a way to win with his B game and Jordan Spieth almost did the same thing at the Masters. These guys don’t have to be on their game to win.

“You need to be able to get up and down and shoot level par for nine holes when you are playing rubbish and get it up and down five times because you are not going to be on your game for 72 holes.”

McIlroy finished near the back of the field for putting at Sawgrass but McGinley reckons that McIlroy’s problems are not on the greens but between his ears.

He said: “I don’t think his putting is his problem at the moment. For some reason his concentration levels are down and I don’t know why."

Could it be that the rise of Day has put him under pressure? Who knows?

“You wouldn’t question his bottle, that’s for sure. He has proved that at the very highest level," McGinley said. 

“I think he is just lacking a little bit of confidence because he hasn’t won for a while. And he is lacking a little bit of focus. 

“It is not his game. It is not his putting or his chipping. And it’s not his balls because we know he can handle the big occasions. 

“But he is not focussing like you need to do for 72 holes. He is coming in and out of focus and still finishing in the Top-10 or thereabouts every week.

“I don’t think Rory can even answer why. When he got a lead in the past he would run away from everybody.  He just needs to get back to where he was in terms of his concentration and focus.” 

McGinley still believes McIlroy is the man to beat over the Palmer Ryder Cup course this week because “big hitting is a big advantage and Rory can take a lot of the trouble out of play.”

As for the extra responsibility of hosting the event, he said: "He will have learned a lot from last year when he hosted at Royal County Down.

“Maybe he gave up too much of his time instead of preparing for his golf so I think he won’t make those mistakes again.”

Meanwhile, West Waterford’s Gary Hurley received the final sponsor’s invitation having finished tied fourth on the Challenge Tour in Italy on Sunday.

That means he joins housemates Jack Hume and Paul Dunne in the field with any side bets between the trio likely to end up with the loser doing domestic chores.

Tipping amateur Hume to do well, Dunne said: “Jack’s good enough not to have an amateur status beside his name. He’s playing great and he’s in a good frame of mind. I’d bet on him to do well this week — if I was allowed bet!

“We played nine holes yesterday. The loser had to cook the dinner, so I was on chef duties.”