Drama could turn into a major worry for McIlroy

Rory McIlroy walks off the course on the 18th hole, his ninth during the second round of the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida yesterday. Photograph: Getty

Rory McIlroy walks off the course on the 18th hole, his ninth during the second round of the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida yesterday. Photograph: Getty

Sat, Mar 2, 2013, 00:00

In walking off the course yesterday Rory McIlroy shows that his game is in crisis, writes BRIAN KEOGH

When a 23-year-old man is handed the multi-million contract of a lifetime that bring comparisons with his boyhood idol Tiger Woods, two things can happen.

In the fairytale world he goes out and plays like never before, wowing the world with his incredible play and quickly adds to his aura and his Major haul. In the real world, he loses confidence and ends up close to tears in just his sixth competitive round with the new sticks in the bag and walks off the golf course.

That’s very real world of Rory McIlroy and it hurts.

While he has twice bounced back from a crisis, winning the US Open following that final round meltdown in the 2011 Masters and again last year when he overcame a mid-season slump to win the US PGA by eight shots, this is a whole new level of pressure.

The muttering about his mental strength and tendency to throw in the towel has already begun and while it is plainly unfair given his incredible Major wins over the past two seasons, it is understandably.

The Golf Channel’s Jason Sobel wrote: “This is beyond poor form. This is quitting. This is John Daly territory. This is the absolute opposite of what we expect and demand from our superstars.”

McIlroy’s close friend Graeme McDowell is loathe to criticise his fellow Northern Irishman and while he recalls saying that the game’s top player needed to learn to fight a bit more, he insists that calling McIlroy a quitter is way off the mark

“Any question marks I would have had for Rory back in the 2010s have been abolished with some incredible golf,” McDowell said. “I wouldn’t put any question marks in his direction any more. He is a class player and just going through a very unique phase in his career and I would imagine this will be the last time he goes through this phase. He has to start playing for himself and believe in himself again and the rest will come.”

McIlroy is not the only Major winner to suffer a loss of form following a lucrative equipment change. Payne Stewart was a two-time Major winner when he left Wilson to sign a $7 million dollar deal with Spalding in 1994.

Game improvement

According to Jaime Diaz in Golf Digest, he was forced to use game-improvement perimeter weighted irons for the first time as well as as the two-piece Top Flite ball and lost much of his distance control and ability to shape shots. As a result he went from sixth on the money list in 1993 to 123rd in 1994.

Lee Janzen left Founders Club to sign a two-year, $1 million contract with the Ben Hogan Co after his 1993 US Open win and immediately lost his game while Corey Pavin won the 1995 US Open before moving to Japanese club maker PRGR in 1997 and finished outside the top 100 on the money list for the duration of the contract.

McIlroy’s problems have a lot more to do with pride in himself and high expectations than the name stamped on the bottom of a club. His emergence from this crisis is likely to be of epic proportions – a story book ending straight out of the pages of a boy’s comic. No tragedy, just drama.

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