Though reinstalled at the summit of the world rankings, Rory McIlroy arrives at Ponte Vedra Beach for this week’s Players Championship with his reputation arguably at its lowest ebb for several months.
Indeed, following in the wake of his third-round capitulation at last month’s Masters Tournament, the Northerner’s playoff defeat to Rickie Fowler at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship did little to silence critics of his occasionally brittle competitive temperament.
There is, of course, little shame in losing a sudden death playoff to a birdie, but the tentativeness of McIlroy’s final thrust – an inexplicably conservative approach shot – stood in stark contrast to the free-wheeling abandon with which the eventual victor stuck to his task.
McIlroy, however, is inclined to see things a little differently.
Speaking at today’s pre-tournament press conference, the 23-year-old – characteristically measured, calm – traced the disappointment of Sunday evening to a moment of indecision.
“I would love to have that second shot back in the playoff. I was in between clubs and went with the wedge instead of the sand wedge. And looking back on it – hindsight is a great thing – but I didn’t really have anything to lose with Rickie being in there close.
“But I was happy with the finish and happy I got myself into contention for my first week back…
“I mean, I gave myself a good chance‑‑ I don’t feel like I lost it last week. I felt like I played well, and I made bogey on 17, but it was playing tricky coming in.”
The US Open champion might be at ease explaining the many and varied decisions that constitute his professional life, but when it comes to explaining the statistical permutations behind the current world rankings, he’s at something of a loss.
“Q: You and Luke keep on playing tag for that No.1 ranking. Can you explain to us how the World Rankings are calculated, formulated?
“If you go onto the website, there’s a page on it where it explains [laughter] ‑ I still don’t understand it, but I don’t think many other people do, either. Yeah, look, it’s‑‑ based on the way everyone is playing, I think it’s a good indication of…
“Q: Since most people can’t understand it, as a player, if there were two, three, four categories that you would use to really determine who was No.1, what would they be for you?
“Wins, consistency, majors, and scoring average, I suppose, a little bit. I think I’m No.1 in that, as well.” [laughter]
McIlroy, who has replaced his 5-wood with a slightly more reliable 2-iron this week [believe it or not, the lad was was forced to answer three separate questions on this topic], tees off Thursday afternoon in the company of all-American hero Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker.