2012 FedEx St. Jude's Classic: Rory's U.S. Open Title Defense Starts Week Early

CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 03: Rory McIlory of Northern Ireland hits his tee shot on the fifth hole during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship at the Quail Hollow Club on May 3, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

While the US Open is still a full week away, Rory Mcilory has an opportunity to prove he is ready to defend his Open crown during this week's FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Make no mistake about it: Rory McIlroy is in the hotseat this week at the FedEx St. Jude's Classic, and he has nobody to blame for that but himself.

Missing a cut on the PGA Tour isn't anything out of the ordinary for a majority of players in the field. Missing two cuts in a row may raise a few eyebrows and make the wallet a bit tighter. Three consecutive missed cuts is a cause for concern and likely prompts a call to one's swing coach. But if you're Rory McIlory, who just a few weeks ago was the top-ranked player in the world and is the defending champion to next week's US Open, you have a lot more to worry about than what you can afford for dinner tonight.

McIlroy isn't required to win this week at the FedEx St. Jude's Classic. Heck, he's not even required to play in the event, much less contend for the trophy on Sunday. But now that he is in the field, and undoubtedly the headliner for the event among a flurry of other big names on Tour, McIlroy is being forced to show the world that his game is back on track and that he's ready for the year's second major next week.

This is not to say that he hasn't been working on getting his swing back on track (or on plane, as it were). Golf swing guru Michael Bannon has been working with McIlory on almost a daily basis, trying to determine what has gone out-of-sync in the youngster's swing. Is he getting a tad early with his hip rotation prior to impact? Are his arms falling back too late through the hitting zone? Questions are being asked, but only Bannon and McIlory can show if any answers have been found.

Seemingly, McIlroy has gotten back on pace with "being Rory McIlory" early into his first round at the St. Jude. As of the time of this writing, McIlory is sitting comfortably at 2-under on the front nine early Thursday morning, just two shots from the tournament leader. Continued strong play would not only show golf fans that next week's US Open title defense would not be in vain, but it would also provide McIlroy the confidence he needs to contend for a second consecutive Open title.

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