Is it two steps back and one forward or the other way around? Whatever it is, Rory McIlroy’s line is that he’s slowly inching his way back to top form as the second major of the season approaches.
No, we don’t meant The Players, though he’s keen to have another go at Pete Dye’s TPC Sawgrass now that he’s learnt the hard way that he can’t use the driver and that it’s all about approach play and putting.
Just a month away from the US Open, McIlroy displayed enough class in a closing 66 that left him two shots outside a playoff for the Wells Fargo Championship that there’s no reason for him to be anything but optimistic.
“That's probably a good way to describe it,” he said when asked if there was aspects of his game that needed to be polished over the coming days and weeks. “There’s other things that aren't quite where I want them to be and I feel like just a slight tweak here and there, we'll be able to go into this stretch of golf and ultimately into the U.S. Open in really good form.
“But I've seen enough positive signs this week to know like I'm on the right track, and obviously ending the week playing the way I did today gives me a lot of confidence going into these next few weeks.”
James Hahn won the title after a playoff with Roberto Castro at Quail Hollow but while McIlroy sound optimistic, it’s not ideal that he is still playing catch up as the meat of the season approaches.
He admitted in a radio interview last Friday that his Saturday performance alongside Jordan Spieth at the Masters exposed his shortcomings under pressure and showed he has many serious issues to deal with in his game. And yet such is his talent, and his confidence around Quail Hollow, that rounds of 73, 69, 73 and 66 were enough to keep most observers happy and reaching for the superlatives.
McIlroy bogeyed the first and last but made eight birdies in between. Overall, he had mixed feelings.
He said: “Anytime you walk off the golf course and shoot 66, you can't be too disappointed. But I think in the circumstances having a feeling like I had a chance on the back nine to post a number for the guys to at least think about it, I didn't birdie the par 5 15th, and then the second shot on 18 I was in between clubs and tried to play the shot that I felt had the best chance to get it close and make 3 and paid the price by not making a good swing.
“It's been a good week in terms of I know what I need to work on and I know the things that I am working on seem to be clicking nicely. But I'm pretty confident going into the next couple weeks. I feel like after a run like this I can go into Sawgrass and be pretty confident with where my game's at.”
He certainly can’t wait to go back to Quail Hollow for next year’s US PGA after two wins and a string of top five finishes at the Charlotte venue.
“Since I heard that the PGA was coming here a few years ago, it's been one that I’ve — don't put too much pressure on myself — but it's one that I've been earmarking, that I feel like it's a really good chance for me.
“The course is going to change somewhat from now until next year with a couple new holes and they're going to put new grass on the greens. But anytime I walk back here I always feel comfortable.
“Great memories. I feel like I'll always have a chance to contend and it's definitely one next year, the '17 PGA, I'd love to get my name on that Wanamaker. If I don't win this year, at least for a third time here. I'm pretty I'm excited about coming back here for a major championship, put it that way.”
As for his swing and the things he’s been working on, he said: “I've hit a lot of shots this week that I've been really happy with, but also hit some shots that I haven't been happy with. Case in point, the second shot on 18 today. So there's a little bit of work to be done and at least I know what I'm doing.
“When I hit a bad shot, at least I know what it is so I'm working on it. When I get it right, it's good but it will take time. It's first week back, especially under the pressure of competition, you're not going to make great swings all the time. So I've got a few days in between now and THE PLAYERS to work on it some more, and I feel like it's been a step in the right direction this week and hopefully I'll continue to make some forward strides next week at THE PLAYERS and onwards, hopefully the U.S. Open.”