News & Opinion

McIlroy points to short game for U.K. revival

TROON, Scotland – Young and rich, Rory McIlroy seemingly has everything that he could have envisioned for himself as a golfer while growing up in Northern Ireland.

Yet the truth these days indicates a void as McIlroy prepares for today’s start of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open (tee times: http://bit.ly/2sWAgff). McIlroy hopes that his recent work after missing the cut last week in his homeland at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, which benefits his foundation, was more of a fluke than a trend.

With four major championships among 22 worldwide victories, McIlroy, 28, knows what it takes to win in the modern game: make putts.

“I feel like I'm hitting the ball well off the tee, and it's being able to take advantage of those tee shots,” McIlroy said during a news conference Wednesday at Dundonald Links. “That's why I worked on my wedge game last week, and I feel like it will be important this week. My putting, I think of 36 holes last week, I hit the edge of the hole 11 or 12 times. So again, that tells me it's not too far away and I'm doing the right thing.”

Changing putters mid-tournament has been part of his philosophy as well as working with putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut at the PGA Championship last year. Starting this week, McIlroy is restoring his routine and eliminating technique, letting his subconscious mind take over and freeing him to play golf.

During McIlroy’s most recent slump, in mid-2016, he missed cuts at the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, leaving his game and his psyche in disarray. 

After a T-31 at The Barclays, the FedEx Cup playoff opener, McIlroy won the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston and, two weeks later, added the Tour Championship title in Atlanta to win the FedEx Cup.

In Boston, McIlroy ranked seventh in the field in strokes gained: putting and first in putting average. In Atlanta, he was 13th in SG: putting and third in putting average.

This year on the PGA Tour, McIlroy ranks 107th in SG: putting and T-32nd in putting average. 

McIlroy acknowledges that he has been around this block before, pointing to his play in the 2016 FedEx Cup as an example of how he can recover quickly. He also has learned to be patient, which at his age can be difficult, especially after so much success in his 20s and the knowledge that he can win again. 

“I'm positive about it. I'm excited about my game,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I'm doing a lot of good things. And again, it's just putting it all together. Putting it all together, not just for one day but for four days; and not just for four days, to do it week-in and week-out.”

The Scottish Open at Dundonald is important, not just as another national open to win but because of the need to validate his recent work.

For McIlroy, the big prize will be next week at the British Open at Royal Birkdale and next month at Quail Hollow, site of the PGA Championship.

What he does this week could be the start of something or even a prelude to better results. McIlroy may have struggled recently, but it could all be fine after four rounds in Scotland.

“I feel it's never as bad as you feel it is, and it's never as good as you feel it is,” he said. “It's more of a mind-set thing and just getting yourself in the right frame of mind. Yeah, I've gone through little periods like this in the past, and I've hit form and I've been able to run with it and sort of ride on the crest of a wave for a few months, and I feel like that's not too far away.”

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli