Rory McIlroy unruffled by ongoing final round frustrations
Irishman happy with his game as he renews quest for elusive win at Players Championship
Rory McIlroy reacts to a missed putt at Bay Hill: It doesn’t matter if you’re final group, fifth group, it’s golf at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter.” Photograph: Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR
What do you do? Just like the rodeo rider who is dumped off his horse, the reaction is to dust yourself down and get back on again. Rory McIlroy has little choice to do the same. The Northern Irishman experienced another of those final round disappointments in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and, perhaps, is thankful that he doesn’t have too much time to digest any implications of his latest gear-change into reverse before getting going again.
This week’s tour stop is The Players Championship - a megabucks showpiece of the PGA Tour - and McIlroy, in one of the marquee groups along with Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar for the first two rounds, will again go about figuring out how he can return to winning ways. A full year has now passed since he last lifted a trophy, as the API champion.
The thing is, McIlroy – and nobody is more aware of this than the player himself – has gone into a number of tournaments, positioned in the final pairing in the final round, with winning opportunities only to time and time again come up short.
In fact, Sunday’s final round at Bay Hill was the ninth time in the past two years that McIlroy has been in a final pairing in the final round of a tournament where he has failed to get the job done. The last time he was successful when so positioned was actually at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at The K Club in 2016 where, it will be remembered, he required two sensational approach shots - one to the 16th, the other to the 18th – to win out.
Since then, however, the evolving theme has been of a failure to close the deal when best positioned to do so: nine and counting is the sort of monkey that you would love to get off your back.
Yet any frustration with the plight wasn’t apparent in his post-round observations after Francesco Molinari won out and McIlroy dropped back to sixth in the number crunching. “I’m playing well, I would much rather be putting myself in position to have a chance to win. I’m playing good golf, it doesn’t matter if I’m playing that golf on Thursday, Friday, Saturday; yeah, my Sundays haven’t been what I would have liked, but I’m putting myself in that position, so good golf is good golf, I keep saying that, at the end of the day!”
He added: “I’m getting myself into contention every week, [if I] continue to do that, going into next week, that’s the great thing about golf, you don’t have to wait too long to get back on the horse.”
When quizzed about the final grouping failure rate, McIlroy responded: “It doesn’t matter if you’re final group, fifth group, it’s golf at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter.”
McIlroy’s next opportunity to return to winning ways comes in The Players at Sawgrass, a tournament which has been moved to an earlier March date – from May – to facilitate the move of the US PGA from an autumn slot in the schedule to an early-summer slot.
In each of his first three appearances at Sawgrass, McIlroy missed the cut but, over time, has gotten to change his feeling for the course from something bordering on hate to a more loving appreciation.
In each of his appearances this season, McIlroy has contended or flirted with contention – 4th-5th-4th-2nd-6th – and he claimed to be “happy with everything” heading into this latest examination at The Players, where he is joined in the field by Shane Lowry and Séamus Power.
2nd (closing round 68) to Graeme Storm (South African Open)
2nd (70) to Haotong Li (Dubai Desert Classic)
5th (74) to Patrick Reed (US Masters)
2nd (70) to Francesco Molinari (BMW PGA)
6th (73) to Justin Thomas (WGC-Firestone)
7th (74) to Tiger Woods (Tour Championship)
4th (72) to Xander Schauffele (Tournament of Champions)
2nd (67) to Dustin Johnson (WGC-Mexico)
6th (72) to Francesco Molinari (Arnold Palmer Invitational)