Words I thought I’d never type: Rory McIlroy missed his third cut in a row.
The 23-year-old reigning U.S. Open champ will have another weekend off — which obviously isn’t a good thing for a professional golfer — to work through his swing changes, a process he started at the beginning of the year, yet has continued to be a work in progress, at the driving range. He has one more week and at least two more competitive rounds (hopefully four) at the FedEx St. Jude Classic to try to get to the point where he feels comfortable with the swing tweaks.
I know what you might be thinking: Why in the world would the golfer who arguably had the sweetest swing in the world change things up? Well, golf is a game of imperfection, yet we’re constantly trying to perfect and improve the swing in order to minimize the imperfections.
After his gutsy rally on Thursday to post a one-under 71, he couldn’t follow it scoring-wise. He flirted dangerously with posting 80 for the second Friday in a row, but he shot 79 again.
“I got off to a decent start and had a couple opportunities there early for birdies and didn’t take them,” he told reporters after his round. “I hit some good shots, it just seems like every time I go out there I make one or two big numbers and that sort of throws me, a couple doubles on the back nine. Just those big numbers at the beginning are killing me, and I just need to get those off the card and I’ll be okay.”
There’s a “Rory” leading the Memorial Tournament at the halfway mark, but as you know, it’s not the one you’d expect — Rory Sabbatini shot back-to-back 69s, six-under through 36, to take a one-shot lead over Spencer Levin, Scott Stallings and Tiger Woods.
Considering the conditions Friday afternoon, McIlroy held it together for the first nine holes. Then, he knocked it in the creek running alongside the green on the par-5 11th. His ball was in the hazard, but it was on the somewhat steep bank. He tried to play it from there and the result was a tad ironic — the ball ended up going backwards into the water. Ouch.
“I just wanted to chip it out in the middle of the fairway, and as soon as I hit it, it obviously just hit the bank in front of me and came back in the water,” said McIlroy. “Probably a bit of bad judgment because I thought I could just chip it back out. But if I had have examined the line maybe a little bit closer, I might have just taken a drop straight away.”
After McIlroy posted a quadruple-bogey early in his first round, he bounced back and shot one-under. That was a positive, but he admitted he was still working on his swing and trying to feel comfortable. The discrepancy in his scores isn’t a massive surprise. In fact, inconsistent results are expected when a player is dealing with swing changes (as we all know from Tiger).
Rory said his scores aren’t necessarily reflecting his progress and ballstriking.
“I was able to string nine good holes together yesterday,” he said. “I just need to keep working on it and try and string 18 good holes together and then try and string two days together and obviously three days and ultimately four. But I hit some good shots out there. I’m definitely hitting the ball better than I did last week, so I can see an improvement there. But I’ve still got a long way to go.”
(Thank God he didn’t say “I’m close.”)
McIlroy was already in panic mode after packing his bags early at Wentworth last week. He blamed himself for not preparing properly, and in retrospect, perhaps he should have played more tournaments earlier in the year.
Hearing him talk all week about swing thoughts and the technical side of the game was strange. He has no choice, though, because he’s running out of time. Well, that was already the case going into The Memorial. To look at things in a positive light, if he plays poorly at Memphis, he has nothing to lose at the U.S. Open and sometimes it doesn’t hurt to freewheel it.
His demeanor was already a tad different than usual earlier in the week. Today? He just looked shocked, which isn’t uncommon right after the round. He usually recovers quite well and lets it go, but that was before he was the best golfer in the world and a major champion. The expectations have gotten greater, not to mention the scrutiny. He’s handled both gracefully, and as promised, continues to speak candidly to the press (for the most part).
When was the last time Rory missed three straight cuts? My first thought was, has he ever? Well, he actually has! In August 2008 he MC’d at the Scandinavian Masters, Dutch Open and Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles. Oh, it’s probably important to mention he was 19 and ranked No. 164 in the world.
“He’s obviously frustrated,” said Luke Donald, who regained world No. 1 ranking from McIlroy last week. “Just having watched Rory the last few days, he’s not far away. He made a couple of careless errors and made some big numbers on a couple holes that was the difference this week. I’m sure once he posts that one good round, that one solid run of maybe a couple of rounds, this will be a blur and he’ll forget about it quickly.”
Asked his plans for Saturday, McIlroy said he wasn’t quite sure yet, but first, “getting over this.” He added the possibility of sticking around to practice at Muirfield Village because of the “pretty good” facilities.
Hopefully he’ll figure it out soon. Ideally, before he arrives at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
[Ed. note: It occurred to me after I posted this that some people may not pick up on the reference I used for my headline — which is a play on words with the name of the Oasis album, “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?“]
(Photo by Getty Images/Scott Halleran)