One week removed from the second of two consecutive missed cuts at the The Players Championship and the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship, Rory McIlroy drilled an eagle on his back-nine to erase a terrible start at this week's Memorial Tournament.
McIlroy, who said earlier in the week that he was “working on a few things” to help him prepare for next month’s U.S. Open title defense, notched a quadruple-bogey-7 at the par-3 12th hole (his third) and quickly fell to 3-over. He got one back with a birdie at the par-4 third and a chip-in for eagle-3 at the par-5 fifth bounced him up to even-par through 15 -- just three shots back of the early leaders.
"These two-day weeks aren’t really that good for me, so I just want to get some competitive rounds in," McIlroy, with a smile, told reporters on Wednesday about his plan to play a week before the Open at next week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic. McIlroy, who tends to lay off competitive golf right before a major, admitted last week that he “might have taken my eye off the ball,” and clearly needed what Tiger Woods is so fond of calling his “reps.”
"I’m working on a few things,” said McIlroy, “and I feel trying to put them into competition will be the best way for me to prepare going into the U.S. Open."
Golf Magazine’s 2011 Player of the Year, who has been ping-ponging with Luke Donald for the No. 1 ranking in men’s golf, was unconcerned about his recent less-than-stellar starts, as was fellow young-gun Rickie Fowler.
"Obviously there’s going to be speed bumps along the way," said Fowler, who beat McIlroy in a playoff at the recent Wells Fargo Championship. "I wouldn’t look at Rory’s game any differently just because of missing a cut or having a bad round here or there. He’s still been playing one of the best -- between him and Luke. It’s definitely a challenge to figure it out, and you can’t make it perfect."
Donald, for his part, wondered if No. 2’s off-course life as the globe-trotting boyfriend of tennis star Caroline Wozniacki were not one of the reasons for McIlroy’s current woes inside the ropes.
“I remember when I was 23 and had an attractive girlfriend,” Donald said Wednesday, “I would take my eye off the ball sometimes, as well. You can't blame the kid.”
Not about to put the onus for his struggles on his significant other, McIlroy conceded he was trying to find “a balance between being a top-class golfer and handling media commitments, sponsors' commitments, trying to have a life outside of all that, just trying to balance everything."
“It's something that it's hard to do all of them all at the same time,” McIlroy said. “Yeah, it's something that I'm still figuring out how to do. But I've got a good team around me, and we're trying to figure that out at the minute.”
One change was additional time with his coach Michael Bannon, whom he met with last week and with whom he had a six-hour range session on the range on Tuesday and another extended shift after yesterday’s pro-am and presser.
"We’d always have a practice session and we’d go inside and we’d look at my swing and just look at the lines and make sure everything is okay," McIlroy said. "I said to him that I felt like I haven’t really seen my swing that much this year. So we sat in his hotel room last night and went through a few swings from the past, from recent weeks, from yesterday, and just going through what’s different and what needs to be corrected.”
McIlroy said the two determined what the problem was and “it’s just a matter of putting in the time on the range and trying to tease it back into the positions that I want it to be."
The player who beat the course and his competitors into submission last year at Congressional Country Club acknowledged that his rough patch had sapped him of some of his confidence. Indeed, he was in unfamiliar territory after the consecutive MCs.
“When you've [gone] on a run where you've hardly finished outside the top five and then all of a sudden two missed cuts, it's more of a shock than anything else, just a little bit surprising," he said. "It's something I haven't really had to deal with in a while, and I just have to knuckle down and figure it out and get back to the way I was at the start of the year.”
About the upcoming Open at the Olympic Club, McIlroy hoped to get game-ready before the June 14 kickoff to the PGA Tour’s second major of the season.
“I want to get my game in good shape going into Olympic,” McIlroy said. “I'd love to be able to get it in good shape after this week and come out of this week after working hard and say, you know what, I've really made progress this week, let's try and make a little bit more next week in Memphis and feel really good and ready for the U.S. Open.”
A few more eagles wouldn't hurt McIlroy's prep.
As for the master of “reps,” despite a double-bogey at the par-4 18th (his ninth hole of the day), Woods carded three birdies and was at 1-under through 14.