Rory McIlroy: Out-of-sorts star will find way back after more major woe

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Northern Ireland golf player Rory McIlroy
McIlroy said he will take two weeks off from tournaments after his early finish in New Jersey

Rory McIlroy is heading "back to the drawing board" after a second successive winless year in the majors.

Chatter about his putting problems is reaching deafening levels, but the 27-year-old from Northern Ireland is well equipped to bounce back.

Since missing the cut at last week's PGA Championship, pundits have queued up to give their views on what he should be doing to properly capitalise on his prodigious shot-making skills.

There are those who advocate finding a new coach, others who say it is time to ditch caddie JP Fitzgerald or consult a shrink. Perhaps he should practise more, play more, play less, smile more, be less accessible, be more amenable... and so it goes on.

McIlroy always generates noise. Opinions fly in all directions. But he is the best judge of what to do to improve.

Think back to 2013 when he missed the cut at the Open at Muirfield. He commented: "I feel like I'm walking around out there and I'm unconscious." Describing his golf as "brain dead", he looked a lost soul before embarking on a largely unseen and arduous process of finding solutions to turn around his game.

McIlroy finished in the top 10 of the PGA the following month but did not make the top 30 who contested the Tour Championship that year. It wasn't until the end of 2013, when he won the Australian Open, that he started to turn the corner.

McIlroy says he needs to have a "good, hard look" at his putting
McIlroy says he needs to have a "good, hard look" at his putting

Currently 34th in the FedEx Cup standings, McIlroy has been the sideshow while Jordan Spieth (twice), Zach Johnson, Jason Day, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and now Jimmy Walker have been winning majors.

McIlroy's ball-striking remains better than almost anyone else's on the planet but he is found wanting on and around the greens. At Baltusrol last week, he was 151st out of 156 in putting - and the field included 20 club professionals.

The four-times major champion branded his short game "pathetic" and vowed to improve. "I need to have a good, hard look at my putting and go back to the drawing board," he said. "I need to do something."

Former European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley told Sky television: "The guys coming behind him have really closed the gap and have maybe even overtaken him."

Day, Dustin Johnson and Spieth are still the only three players above McIlroy in the world standings so now is not the time to push panic buttons. The biggest danger for the Ulsterman is to overstate his frailty on the greens in his own mind. If he starts telling himself he is a bad putter, he will become one and it will become even harder to escape the malaise.

Perhaps he should seek counsel again with greens guru Dave Stockton. Or Phil Kenyon, who has worked wonders with Stenson. Or Dave Pelz, who has helped Phil Mickelson and is the author of the "The Short Game Bible".

Finding the right person for McIlroy is not straightforward. He is a feel player, prone to peaks and troughs. His technique, throughout his game, does not lend itself to consistency, but his talent is such that his high points are of Everest proportions.

Caddie Fitzgerald and coach Michael Bannon understand this more than anyone else. Their employer knows it, too. This explains to date his stout loyalty to those closest to his golf.

McIlroy broke off his engagement to tennis player Caroline Wozniacki in 2014
McIlroy broke off his engagement to tennis player Caroline Wozniacki in 2014

McIlroy is not afraid to make changes in his life. We have seen it with management companies, sponsors and fiancées. But when it comes to his golf, he has always had faith in what works. He is stubborn and those who think he is not committed enough to being the best player in the world are way off the mark.

McIlroy hates to play bad golf and this year will hurt. Battered and softened by the New Jersey rains, Baltusrol was made for him and the PGA was a big missed opportunity. But it is the Masters that provides the biggest motivation. It is the major he has yet to win and it is the tournament we have all suggested is the one that best suits his game.

Each year, he turns up at Augusta with such a sense of expectation, especially after leading by four shots going into the final round in 2011. McIlroy blew up on that occasion, only to land his first major at the very next opportunity, by winning the US Open by eight shots.

That victory at Congressional scratched the major itch, but the Masters one is starting to fester. Whenever he departs Augusta winless, you know he has failed in his prime objective of the year.

It is a long time until next April with a lot of big golf in between - the FedEx Cup, Ryder Cup and Race to Dubai are all up for grabs - but McIlroy's priority is sorting out his short game in time for the Masters. The pressure to perform next spring will be immense.

He knows what he has to do and his overall record suggests he is capable of finding the solution. And, as someone with such an uncanny knack for making news, he also knows there will be plenty of noise, unsolicited advice and comment to contend with along the way.


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