Times have been rough for Rory McIlroy.
Well, figuratively speaking of course. While his play thus far in the 2013 season has been lackluster, McIlroy is still the new face of Nike Golf and ranked No. 2 in the world. His switch to the "Swoosh" has not gone without criticism. Many notable pundits -- including Nick Faldo -- cautioned the Northern Irish lad about changing his equipment at this stage in his career.
McIlroy himself admitted that his season has not lived up to his own lofty expectations. During his first professional event of the year in Abu Dhabi last January, he and fellow Nike tour player Tiger Woods missed the cut. The two men also experienced early-round departures in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February, throwing fuel on the "What the hell is wrong with Rory?" flame. There was also the odd "wisdom tooth" debacle at the Honda Classic, an event McIlroy won the previous year.
Alas, that is where the comparisons with Woods end. Tiger has since won three times this year -- in only five events -- while McIlroy continues to search for a game that he is primed to dominate. There were times when McIlroy simply seemed lost on the golf course, and at a loss for words when trying to explain his struggles.
"It's very disappointing," he said in January. "You really want to get off to a nice start at the start of the season, but I've got to realize that it is only the start. As long as I feel like my game is in good shape heading into Augusta that's all I'm worried about."
And so here we are. McIlroy is no stranger to major championship success having captured two titles in his comparatively-young career. Unfortunately, he is also well aware of the heartache that comes with a major collapse, which he experienced at the 2011 Masters in extravagant fashion.
Still, hope springs eternal for McIlroy despite his early season trouble. The young superstar showcased his resolve impressively at the 2011 US Open, winning his first major only two months after his Augusta heartbreak. This week may be the most important of his career, presenting an opportunity to surpass his achievement from the aforementioned US Open triumph.
McIlroy's game appears to be taking form just in the nick of time. His performance at the Shell Houston Open was a step in the right direction.
"I am very happy with the signs," McIlroy said. "I had a putt on the 13th green to go five under for the day, it wasn't to be and I made a couple of silly errors coming in. But with a bit more play, one more round here and hopefully four next week, I will be ready. If I get those stupid errors off my card, I will be OK.
"I just feel like I am playing well, hitting the ball well, everything feels good in my game and it is just about getting a bit more competitive golf. I need to get a little bit sharper, I still feel a little rusty out there. I think the more rounds I play, the better it will be for me going into Augusta."