Rory McIlroy, the world’s No. 1 golfer, knows his game is not in No. 1 condition right now.
It needs work. Lots of work, and McIlroy’s the first one to admit it.
But he also thinks he knows the cure.
“It’s just something that I need to stand on the range and beat balls until I feel comfortable with it again,” McIlroy said Sunday after shooting an even-par 72 in the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship on the Blue Monster course at Trump National Doral.
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What says something about McIlroy’s ability is that even when his game is the equivalent of ground under repair, you can look up at the leaderboard and still see him standing in respectable to good position.
That was the case at Doral this week when McIlroy admitted after all four rounds he was off-kilter, uncomfortable and tentative, but he still managed to finish in a tie for ninth at 1-under-par 287.
Not bad for most golfers. Not good for McIlroy.
There’s no doubt that the No. 1 ranking McIlroy has held for 70 weeks creates an immense amount of scrutiny that can take a substantial toll.
McIlroy has been so good for so long, people forget that he is only 25 years old.
A week ago at the Honda Classic, he missed the cut. You could hear gasps around the golfing world. “What’s wrong with Rory?” was the topic of many conversations.
One bad week and the naysayers could be heard like it was coming straight out of a bullhorn.
Fans expect a lot. And they also have short memories. Just earlier, in January, McIlroy had won the Dubai Desert Classic followed by finishing second in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
That led to a small joke by his caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald, who sidled up to his boss on the 18th green Sunday and said, “I think we left our game back in the desert.”
McIlroy, after the round, relayed what his caddie had said and admitted that J.P. might be right, “It’s still sort of back there.”
Forgive McIlroy for not going into panic mode even though many others do.
Minutes after completing his round and exiting the scorer’s room, McIlroy emerged to talk about his day, his round and his immediate plans.
First of all, he touched upon — with a smile — how he managed a double bogey on No. 18.
McIlroy hit his drive into the water and took a drop. Penalty stroke. Hit his third shot into the water. Penalty stroke. Let’s move forward. The upshot was that he had to hole out a beautifully judged, 24-foot chip from the fringe … for the double bogey.
The second shot into the water was the one that amused McIlroy.
On Friday, McIlroy had stirred the Golf Gods by hitting into the water on No. 8 and then heaving the offending 3-iron into the drink right afterward.
Unfortunately for McIlroy, that all played out on national TV. Then, on Saturday, a scuba diver in full gear retrieved the 3-iron, and Sunday morning Trump National Doral mogul Donald Trump returned it to McIlroy on the driving range, and McIlroy stuck it in his bag.
Then, on 18, after dropping following his first ball in the water, McIlroy took out the 3-iron for the first time since he had given it the ol’ heave-ho.
The shot went into the water and McIlroy feigned outrage and faked throwing the club back into a lake. He then smiled.
As for the future and the state of his game, McIlroy can’t really smile, but he can do what he always does.
“I’ll practice hard,” he said.