McIlroy must finally concede pitching and putting not up to scratch

McIlroy must finally concede pitching and putting not up to scratch
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot on the 14th fairway during Day One of the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush in Portrush, Co Antrim. Photo by John Dickson/Sportsfile.

As someone who has witnessed the insane levels of attention he draws at home tournaments, Rory’s performance yesterday didn’t really surprise me as I have often seen him struggle to cope with that huge expectation, writes John McHenry.

For someone who is regularly compared to Tiger Woods, let me make this perfectly clear, Rory McIlroy is no Woods. He is not that same supremely confident person and relentless competitor who can fully immerse himself in his own self.

He is not a person who fully knows how to control hisemotions. When Roryy was doing interviews earlier in the week, he was asked about what it would mean to him to win the Open Championship around Royal Portrush. ‘I would regard it as my greatest ever triumph’, was his reply. Always honest in the interview room, McIlroy also spoke about “trying to smell the roses” this week amid all the hype and euphoria going on around him.

While getting every ounce out of his performance, he does not fully understand the workings of his body in competition. When his adrenaline is pumping and everything is on the line, he simply is not a good enough pitcher and putter of the ball.

What he is, is a genuinely good guy and a supremelytalented ball striker. He is one of the greatest drivers of the ball the game has ever seen and in that department he is light years ahead of Tiger. He is also a great iron player but no nowhere near as good as Tiger, who has the ability to shape the required shot ondemand. Sadly though, it is when you get into the short game area that he is frequently bettered by many of the above average players in the world.

As an in-form competitor, Rory fears no one but the same can be said about Dustin Johnson and just about every one of the top five players in the world.

His problems is that his winning form is totally linked to the most mentally vulnerable part of the game – a strong short game. As we have seen in recent years withJordan Spieth, there is no quicker career buster than a poor short game.

As Lee Trevino once said: “A poor putter is like a dog chasing car. They don’t last”, and for all of his talent, Rory is an average pitcher of the ball and a streaky putter, at best.

Compare him then to Tiger Woods or even the more recent man of the moment, Brooks Koepka - who keeps his philosophy on the game ridiculously simple.

Koepka’s ability to banish fears n in major championships, is perhaps even more impressive than Tiger in his prime. Once his preparation for the tournament is done, he ignores the outside world, preferring to fully express his talent and have fun.

Rory’s meltdown yesterday speaks volumes about his mindset. No longer will this be the greatest competitive week he had hoped and built his season around and despite his soundbites, the sobering aftermath of this tournament will undoubtedly leave deep scars that this very honest player must now face down.

The sad thing is that Rory already knows many of the answers. For too long he has danced his way around them – so it remains to be seen how brave he will going forward. What he does now know is that the “same old” doesn’t work.

It is not for me to lecture him but instead remind him that in his prime, a mentally stronger Tiger always surrounded himself with the best available talent, both on and off the course.

Even when he abandoned many of these pillars later in his career, Tiger was still mentally strong enough to keep finding ways to compete, aided in no small way by a brilliant short game he could count on time and again.

McIlroy, already asuperstar and ridiculously rich, wants for nothing now but perhaps the satisfaction of fulfilling his ambition to be as good as he can be.

In that department, he is still a work in progress.


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