Rory McIlroy insists it’s close and that he just has to start doing the simple things well again.
In reality, it appears far more complex than that after he missed the cut in the Irish Open for the second time in three years.
The four-time major winner had 33 putts for the second day running, hitting just six fairways and making a slew of unforced errors as he added a 73 to his opening 72 to miss the cut comfortably on one-over par.
What made this failure all the more worrying for McIlroy was finishing 13 strokes behind Jon Rahm and 10 shots adrift of world No2 Hideki Matsuyama on a links course less than a fortnight before the start of The Open.
Yes, he has next week’s Scottish Open to whip his game into shape for the trip to Royal Birkdale, but even for a player of McIlroy’s stature, it will be asking a lot for him to be major championship sharp in such a short space of time.
Clearly, he was disappointed. But while he put a brave face on things and insisted there’s not much wrong, his inability to take his practice ground form on the golf course suggests that his problems are as much between the ears as physical.
“Yeah, look, I’m really disappointed,” said McIlroy. “The last two times The Irish Open has been in Northern Ireland, not playing at the weekend, it’s obviously not where I want to be. It’s been a really frustrating year. It’s been tough but I felt like I was playing well coming in here.
“I played a lot of links golf last week. I was shooting good scores. I was confident. Just when I needed to play well and shoot the scores that I was shooting last week, it just wasn’t quite there.”
McIlroy was bullish before the US Open too, saying anyone complaining about the rough when the fairways were 60 yards wide might as well pack their bags and go home.
The rib injury that’s disrupted his season is a factor in that he has not played enough golf to play his way into form. But his overeagerness to get back to the top of the world rankings suggests he is in the wrong place mentally.
“I think it’s a combination of both,” he said. “Yeah, I haven’t played as much as I would have liked this year. I need to play more. I feel like I’m starting on a run of doing that. I’m playing next week in Scotland, and The Open. I’m going to play a lot of events over the summer.
“But I really need to get my game in order if I want to challenge in them. So bit of practice over the weekend and hopefully I can find something and go with it over the next few weeks. I think it’s really about staying patient. I don’t feel like there’s so much wrong.
“It’s hard to say that because I just missed the cut and I’m 13 shots behind one of my playing partners, but it doesn’t feel like it’s that far away.
“You need to keep believing in what you’re doing, and I feel like I am. It’s just a matter of being patient with it.”
McIlroy holed a 10-footer for par at the third and another for birdie at the par-five fourth. But he also made life hard for himself with several unforced errors and a general lack of conviction with the putter.
At the par-three sixth he came up short of a front-right pin, when he needed to be long and left, and failed to get up and down for par.
He needed two birdies in his last three holes to make the cut, but failed to make a four from the apron of the par-five seventh, then failed to hit the fairway at the eighth and three-putted for a double-bogey six after his approach came up short and rolled down a steep slope.
“It’s a few up-and-downs that I haven’t been able to get the last couple of days. It’s all that stuff that isn’t so obvious.
“You can’t keep hitting quality golf shots all the time and giving yourself chances. You have to get it up and down.
“Even if I had not have done any practice over the last week, with the way the conditions are, I should be able to go out there and shoot two scores in the 60s standing on my head.”
The Scottish Open now takes on added importance for McIlroy: “I’d like to get a good tournament under my belt going into Birkdale.
“Every tournament is important to me coming up in this summer stretch. I haven’t played a lot and every time I go and play, I need to make the most of it.”
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