Statistics don’t lie: Rory McIlroy must sort out driving to get his game back

Meeing with Nike technicians could be vital for world number two ahead of British Open


For anyone exiting Carton House on Saturday evening or arriving again on Sunday morning, the sight of Rory McIlroy using the driving range of the GUI National Academy – just like the old days? – was one to behold.

As much as he may have liked to get on a plane and head to Monaco, his presence in Maynooth over the weekend, having missed the cut in the Irish Open, showed his desire to fix whatever ails his game.

As it happens, the root of McIlroy’s problems, as he conceded himself, lies with his driving.

Whether that’s a technical glitch with his swing or something to do with the actual driver is something of a moot point.

The problem is exemplify by statistics on the two main tours: McIlroy is ranked only 89th in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour in America, in hitting 60 per cent of fairways; on the European Tour, he is ranked 151st, where he has hit 56 per cent of fairways.

That level of inaccuracy off the tee is not something any player can carry, as McIlroy’s results have emphasised.

So, it’s hardly surprising that, apart from continuing to work on his swing with coach Michael Bannon, McIlroy’s most important date this week will see him meet up with the Nike technicians on Thursady to again test more drivers and, as he puts it, “get something set up perfectly for me so I have confidence in that going into the rest of the season.”

Touch of irony
There was, of course, a touch of irony at Carton House in that the player who actually claimed the title did so using Nike clubs. Paul Casey, though, was not to be drawn on making comparisons with himself and McIlroy.

“He’s using a different ball to me, a different shaft (on the driver), a different head,” replied Casey when asked if he thought McIlroy was using the right driver, adding: “It really frustrates me when I read negative press about Nike and their equipment.

“They are a legitimate golf brand, (a) legitimate golf company, and people don’t necessarily see (what goes on) behind the scenes with the R&D (research and development) and the personnel that are making fantastic golf products . . . it is not inferior in any way, and this is something that he’s just trying to get right. I have confidence that he will.”

Casey said he had “the fullest confidence” in McIlroy and agreed with comments from Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley that the Ulsterman is “more kind of a streaky player.”

Before leaving Carton House, McIlroy admitted “the driver hasn’t been the best club in my bag this year, it’s been a bit of a struggle off the tee. I base my game around that and, if I drive the ball well, I am going to do well . . . I’m still confident in my ability to hit the golf ball and hit good shots.”

All of which means the meeting with the Nike techies could be one of the most important things McIlroy does before teeing up again competitively, which happens to be at the British Open in Muirfield in just over a fortnight’s time.

McIlroy intends to spend some time at the Scottish links next week in preparation, rather than adding the Scottish Open next week to his itinerary.

Irish contingent
This week’s French Open at the National Golf Club in Paris has a strong Irish contingent, with world number nine Graeme McDowell aiming to bounce back from his missed cut at the Irish Open.

McDowell has won twice on tour this season, on each occasion – in the Heritage Classic and the Volvo World Matchplay – bouncing back from failing the survive the weekend at the previous tournaments.

McDowell is joined in Paris by Michael Hoey, Simon Thornton, Alan Dunbar, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane, Paul McGinley, Gareth Maybin and Gareth Shaw, whose tied-fifth finish in Carton House earned him a spot in the field.

It will be Shaw’s seventh successive week playing, not that he is complaining. “This game is so funny. If you get on a bit of a streak, before you know it you are out there (on tour). It depends on what I make of it. I’ve got to stick at doing the same things I’ve been doing,” said Shaw.

Lawrie, who had a top-10 finish at Carton House, will also seek to continue his good form with an eye on making it into the British Open off the mini order of merit which finishes this week in Paris. “I go to Paris and then the Scottish Open and hopefully I play well in either to get into the British Open,” said the Dubliner.

Meanwhile, Colin Montgomerie will be among the 288 players competing over four courses in Scotland in today’s 36-hole Final Local Qualifying in their attempts to make it to Muirfield. There are a 12 places available.

There are 13 Irish players bidding to make it to the season’s third Major. Kevin Phelan, Neil O’Briain, Colm Moriarty, Brendan McConnell and Dunbar are competing at Dunbar links; David Jones and Danny Sugrue are in action at Gullane No 1; David Higgins and Michael McGeady are at North Berwick, and Richard Kilpatrick, David Rawluk, Gavin Moynihan and Aaron Kearney are at Musselburgh.