Rory McIlroy struggled with the flat stick on the slick greens at Augusta National Golf Club during the Masters a few weeks ago, where he finished third-to-last in putting — which he was quick to point out himself in his pre-tournament presser at Quail Hollow Club on Wednesday.
On the eve of the Wells Fargo Championship, the site of McIlroy’s first PGA Tour victory in 2010, Rory was adamant about improving his performance on the greens and looking forward to return to competition at a venue where he’s experienced quite a bit of success.
“I finished top-10, eighth (at the Masters, but) I missed 15 putts inside eight feet,” said McIlroy.
“I’ve worked on a few things since the Masters and that’s the part of the game that I’m trying to improve a little bit more because I think I’m like, 140 or 150th in strokes putting this year, and the only time I finished inside 100 was 2012 and won a few events that year. ”
Rory, who turns 25 this Sunday, got an idea of the root of his putting woes in the final round of the Masters. What was he doing? Well, it basically had to do with fundamentals, like aiming — believe it or not. He was standing too close to the ball, messing up his sight lines, and his stance was open, causing him to push his putts.
“(Aiming) was one of the biggest problems and I started standing too far open and pushing it out with my left hand, if it’s too much, so trying to square myself up again and putting structure in place, so every time I get over a putt I know that I’m aiming correctly,” said McIlroy, who was aiming as far as three inches left of his intended target.
Over the last couple of weeks, he’s worked a lot with a putting mirror as well as with a chalk line, which is meant to train his eyes to see a straight line properly from where his eyes should be.
“Seems so simple and seems how can a tour pro make that mistake?” he said. “But you get into bad habits and it sort of takes a bad putting week or an eye opener like Augusta for me to say something needs to change here.”
McIlroy, who famously struggled in 2013, with his only win being the Australian Open toward the end of the year, has dropped out of the top 10 in the Official Golf World Rankings for the first time in more than three years.
Rory was ranked no. 1 in the world for 39 weeks before Tiger Woods overcame him after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational last March. This week, the Northern Irishman fell to no. 11.
But, as he pointed out, it’s not that he’s been playing poorly as of late, rather it’s more of a mathematical issue, with his five wins in 2012 no longer counting since the OWGR runs on a two-year cycle.
“I’ve had chances to win, I haven’t quite won,” said McIlroy. “I think it’s because of the fast start and the great year that I had in 2012, all those points are just starting to come off, and that’s the reason.
“But I’ve got a good stretch coming up here because well, I’ve got points to defend this week and then I went on a run, I missed four cuts out of five during the summer in ’12, so I’ve got a stretch there where I can make up a little bit of ground. It’s not nice to drop out of the over three years in the top 10, and you sorta get comfortable there.
“Hopefully I can get myself back up, you know, into the sort of territory I have been at the last few years.”
Some classic parts of Rory’s presser when he was asked about last week’s winner of the Zurich Classic, 22-year-old Seung-yul Noh of South Korea. My favorite parts were when he brought up Asian stereotypes and then looked over at me. No, really, it was hilarious.
Q. Rory, is it possible in the week that you’re turning 25 to feel at all “old” when you see what Jordan is doing, SeungYul Noh is doing? These guys that are actually younger than you.
RORY McILROY: I know, 25, quarter of a century! I mean, I came here as a 20 year old, won here. Yeah, it’s I mean, I think everyone knew, especially the guys that played on the European Tour and played in Asia a little bit knew what SeungYul could do, talented player, great ball striker, hits it a long way and seems like he’s very much in control of his I watched the final round last week when it was windy and seemed like he controlled his ball flight well, putted well and sort of has that I don’t want to stereotype but he has that “Asian” demeanor, where nothing phases them, and it’s what you need on the golf course. Obviously Jordan, even though he didn’t win at Augusta, I thought he handled himself really well.
For 20 years old or whatever he is, he came I thought he would come out and struggle on Sunday, like straightaway, but he didn’t. He held a bunker shot on 4, he birdied 6, he did all the right things, obviously made a couple of errors around the turn, but I thought he handled himself well for being in that position for the first time.
Seems like the guys are getting better younger and younger, and it’s great for the image of golf that you’re having these young guys coming up and coming through. Yeah, I mean, I’m still I feel like I’m still young but I’m a little older than they are. I think golf is in a good place that way. There’s going to be a lot of good players that are here to stay for the next decade or two.
Q. Was there anything you saw in his game or the demeanor that made you think, you know, he’s going to do okay when he gets to the TOUR, PGA TOUR?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I remember the first tee shot he hit. I heard I think at that time he was maybe third on the Asian Tour. He was challenging to win the Order of Merit over there and he was, like, 17, and I remember the first tee shot he hit and I was like, whoa! He had a lot of speed, which is, again, that’s something you see a lot of I don’t want to stereotype here, but you see Asian players come up and they have really, really good swings, but they don’t create a lot of speed, and that’s the one thing I noticed with him. He created a lot of speed and hit it a long way. Singapore is a tough golf course, and he played well. I knew from that point he was going to be something pretty good.