McIlroy says he is headed in right direction entering The Open Championship
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
GULLANE, Scotland -- Promising. That's how Rory McIlroy described his game on the eve of The Open Championship at Muirfield.
Interesting words from a 24-year-old who counts two major championships among his six career PGA TOUR wins. Yet, the 2013 season has been one of unfulfilled promise as McIlroy has failed to win on either side of the Atlantic or finish higher than 25th in the first two majors.
Not that he's overly concerned.
"The thing I think is -- what's the big deal?" McIlroy said. "I haven't had the best six months, but ... it's okay. I'm fine. I've got a good life. So, you know, it doesn't bother me. I'm in a good place. And as I said, I'm working hard. ...
"And sooner or later it will turn around and I'll be back lifting trophies."
But his last two forays on the PGA TOUR have produced ties for 57th at the Memorial and 41st at the U.S. Open, two years after his breakthrough victory at the U.S. Open at Congressional. He missed the cut at the Irish Open three weeks ago, as well.
The inconsistency in the young Northern Irishman's game has invited enough scrutiny and second-guessing for a lifetime -- and here he is only five years into his career. Some of it has come from Sir Nick Faldo, a six-time major champion who was under the microscope several times during his own World Golf Hall of Fame career.
Faldo, who is now an analyst for CBS and the Golf Channel, was critical of McIlroy's equipment change from Titleist to Nike at the beginning of the season. Earlier this week, the man who won two Open Championships at Muirfield said McIlroy needed to focus solely on the game, not-so-subtly suggesting he needs to hit the range from 9-5 to get his game back.
"You have a 20-year window of opportunity as an athlete. Concentrate on golf, nothing else," Faldo said. "When you retire (in your) 40s, 50s, hopefully you have another 40 years to enjoy it. Just concentrate on golf, nothing else. That's my only words of wisdom to Rory."
McIlroy, who has played six rounds at Muirfield over the last 10 days, begged to differ on Wednesday. After all, he's been putting in overtime.
"I actually was on the range at 6:15 (a.m.), and got out of the gym at 6:15 (p.m.), actually a 12-hour day compared to his eight-hour day," McIlroy said. "It is what it is, and Nick should know how hard this game is at times."
McIlroy says he's "definitely" headed in the right direction and he looks forward to the upcoming stretch of events that includes the Open, the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, PGA Championship and the four events in the FedExCup Playoffs. A year ago he roared through that stretch with a win at the PGA and two more during the Playoffs, showing he knows how to turn his game around.
"You're going to go through highs and you're going to go through lows," McIlroy said. "It's just about trying to work your way out of the lows. Yeah, I haven't played my best golf this year, but I've showed signs that it is there. It's just a matter of trying to do that more often. But, yeah, it's been difficult to try, I guess, to explain why I'm not playing well or why I haven't had the results that I've wanted over the past six months."
While his change in management companies and even his relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki have been called into question, along with the new clubs, McIlroy has done his best to stay in his own "little bubble." He tries not to read what people write about him, and he avoids watching TV -- except some of those videos showing the 15-year evolution of his swing.
"I don't want to swing like I was 9 years old again, but we have those swings," McIlroy said. "... And I can remember different periods where, okay, I was swinging it well here, what was your feeling? What was your swing thought? And just trying to go back and recreate those feelings."
Phil Mickelson, who will play with McIlroy and 21-year-old Hideki Matsuyama during the first two rounds at Muirfield, has gone through similar ups and downs during his career. He doesn't expect the Northern Irishman's slump to last much longer.
"Rory has been out here for five years, even though he's extremely young," Mickelson said. "He's won two major championships and a number of tournaments to where he is acutely aware of what is needed to handle pressures and things off the course. He's too good and talented player to not get his game sharp.
"And I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't happen this week."