Friday 18 August 2017

McIlroy needs to pick himself off the canvas and get back to form

Rory McIlroy could do with a new putter anyway
Rory McIlroy could do with a new putter anyway
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Rory McIlroy took time out from beating himself up for his US PGA Championship failure to watch his Northern Ireland compatriot Carl Frampton beat up Leo Santa Cruz to win the WBA super featherweight title in New York on Saturday night.

The adrenalin of the big fight atmosphere, the tension, and the joy at seeing Frampton win the title was the ideal way to forget, at least temporarily, his exit from the fourth Major of the year with a bogey six on the final hole on Friday.

Ironically, a solid par-five would have seen him safely into the weekend, but he did not know that as he tried hard, arguably too hard, to birdie that hole.

Behind him, McIlroy left a welter of speculation as, in boxing terms, he needs to pick himself up off the canvas, and soon. How could a golfer of his prodigious ability with a driver end up frustrated and annoyed and looking somewhat lost for answers?

The answer lies with his putting and the quality - or lack of it - of his performance on the greens.

Statistics put it in context: for the first two days McIlroy was number one in driving, but 151st in putting of 156 starters.

Analysis

A total of 35 putts on Thursday in a round of 74, four-over par, with not a single birdie on the card, drew in-depth analysis of his stroke on the Golf Channel.

The super-slo-mo camera showed on at least one putt where the putter shaft was subtly leaning forward, bringing the putter head down at an angle into the ball where the best putters catch it on the upswing.

Is technique the problem, or is it all mental? Or is it a combination of both?

McIlroy now has to decide the best way forward to find confidence with his putter and get back to that jaunty stride which shows up when he goes birdie-hunting.

It may take some time. McIlroy has not looked like he is enjoying his golf for a while.

The game used to be fun, but as he told David Feherty on a recent TV special, it is work now, albeit very well-rewarded work.

But for any golfer, especially at the highest level, the putting makes or breaks the score, and sets the mood music.

Had McIlroy taken five, or even four fewer putts on Thursday, he would probably still have come back to practise on the putting green that evening.

He does not work with any specialist putting coach, saying: "I'm sort of doing it on my own. I have got a few drills that I do and work on the mirror a little bit. That's really it.

"I sort of try to create my own feelings. It's good on the putting green. It's just a matter of getting it from the putting green to the course. I think it's more of a mental thing, as well. Maybe that's why I'm saying to be a little bit more assertive and not quite as tentative."

Hence the overtime practice on Thursday.

McIlroy, watched by his coach Michael Bannon, worked on drills, including putting with just his left hand, hoping to find some rhythm.

Did it help? "Not really," was his verdict in a post-round interview on Friday. And the year to date? "Disappointing."

Major titles are his focus. He said earlier in the week that he could see no reason why one a year was not achievable over the next decade.

McIlroy thinks big, and so he should, but if, in the next 10 years he won five more, it would be a marvellous achievement.

The Major numbers game must remain just a talking point for some time, because McIlroy has to wait for the 2017 campaign to for his fifth Major.

His last was in July 2014 in the Open at Hoylake.

In the meantime, he steps out of the tournament arena until The Barclays, the first of the FedEx Cup play-offs, which starts at Bethpage Black on August 25.

"Tee to green is good, I just need to figure out what to do on the greens. I need to have a long hard think about that," said McIlroy.

Shane Lowry, who was also at the Frampton fight, has confirmed he will be playing this week as scheduled in The Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Connecticut.

In the immediate emotional disappointment at missing the US PGA cut, Lowry suggested he might opt out of it but is ready to get back in action.

Irish Independent

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