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  • Alistair Tait

Golf is what’s wrong with Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy’s opening 79 in the Players Championship will cue the inevitable “what’s wrong with Rory” questions. Even from golf journalists who should know better.

Golf is what’s wrong with Rory. And Henrik. And Ian. And Francesco. And Tyrrell.

Henrik, as in Stenson, Ian as in Poulter, Francesco as in Molinari, and Tyrrell as in Hatton must be happy they had Rory to shoulder the media load at Sawgrass. Stenson, the 2016 Champion Golfer of the Year, played the opening round in 85 blows. Poulter took 77. 2018 Champion Golfer of the Year Molinari shot 76. So did Hatton.

Why? Because it’s called golf. The reason it has this four-letter moniker is because all the other four-letter swear words were already taken.

McIlroy was at a loss to explain why he shot his worst score in 34 trips around TPC Sawgrass, his worst score since a 77 on his 2009 debut:

“Very hard, especially when you're trying to figure it out as you go along on course, right? You're not like, you don't really – you're trying to figure it out but you still know you're not really sure where the shots are coming from.”

Maybe the reason he was struggling for an explanation stems from being defending champion. McIlroy was peerless two years ago in adding the PGA Tour’s flagship tournament to his vast array of trophies. He didn’t get to defend last year because Covid-19 forced abandonment of the tournament after the opening round. No wonder he was looking forward to defending his title.

"It's nice, as I said, to be back, and hopefully I can get off to a better start than I did last year (a level par 72), shoot something in the 60s, not be too far away from the lead and try to build on that.”

The best laid plans and all that….

Rory’s current frustration is the result of inconsistency. At least week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational he shot 66 on Thursday to share the lead. He thought he’d discovered the key to the universe only to add further scores of 71, 72 and 76 to finish T10.

“I'd almost feel better if my game was worse, but it's the inconsistency of I shot 66 on Thursday and thought, ‘I've got it, I feel really good,’ and then I didn't quite have it. The ups and downs are just a little too much.
“I think that's where I'm sort of struggling to come to terms with it, and sort of trying to figure out what I need to do because the good stuff is there. It always will be.
“But it's when it goes slightly off, how do you manage that?
“I feel like over the last few years, I've been really good at when my game hasn't been fully there still to be able to shoot 69, 70, still being able to get it under par, where I feel like the last few weeks when it hasn't felt quite right, I'm sort of treading water and I'm just trying to shoot even par.
“(I’m) just trying to get the bad golf a little better because the good golf is always there and the good shots will always be in there.”

Maybe, just maybe, Rory has had an unrealistic view of this game called gowf. Maybe he was trapped into believing the game can be mastered, that perfection is possible. He’s not alone. All he has to do is look across the fairways at Jordan Spieth.

Spieth had it all a few years ago when he added the 2017 Open Championship to a list of major trophies that includes the 2015 Masters and 2015 U.S. Open. Who’d have thought he’d still be looking for his first victory since he became the practice ground champion at Royal Birkdale?

Ditto for Stenson. He counts the 2017 Wyndham Championship and the limited-field Hero World Challenge in 2019 as his only two victories since he took down Phil Mickelson in that modern-day Duel in the Sun at Royal Troon in 2016.

Molinari? Is this really the same player that tamed Carnoustie to win the 2018 Open and then won five points out of five in France to lead Europe to Ryder Cup victory?

Maybe Rory’s just learning that this game can never be mastered, that what it gives it also takes back. It’s always wins.

He’ll probably be fitted for a gaudy green jacket in a few weeks’ time.

Funny old game.

#JustSaying: “I’m hitting the ball like a damn polka dancer – first off the heel, then off the toe.” Andrew Kirkaldy

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