WHEN Rory McIlroy missed the halfway cut at the Masters, he headed home to Northern Ireland demoralised yet determined to put his game back into shape. Few could have guessed that he would turn things around so fast and so spectacularly.
Now, after returning to the USA last week and promptly blowing away a stellar field at the Quail Hollow Championship in North Carolina, the young Irishman has got everybody talking. And one of the questions being asked at the Players' Championship, which gets under way at Sawgrass today, concerns his swing. According to some commentators, it might be the best in the game.
At 5ft 9in and 11st 6lb, McIlroy would not be expected to be out-hitting some of his bigger peers. And yet he generates such colossal clubhead speed that, at 21, he is now one of the longest hitters in the game.
Most impressive, however, is the sheer beauty and simplicity of the action. He swings at 120mph and the ball leaves the clubhead 55mph faster.
It was during his inward nine of 30 at Quail Hollow that McIlroy got the commentators purring.
So what was the secret? "It was about getting back to not thinking about it too much and playing like a kid again," McIlroy said. "Go hit it, find it, hit it again. Hole the putt, go to the next tee. Most of the things that go wrong are the basics -- posture, alignment, the normal fundamentals. I like to keep it very simple."
Tim Barter, a European Tour coach, has seen some good players in his time but few so naturally gifted as McIlroy. "I love the natural nature of his swing," Barter said. "It is not manufactured, it's not made. It has been given to him as a God-given gift."
Johnny Miller, a former Open champion and now a TV analyst, described McIlroy's round of 62 on Sunday as "one of the great non-major performances" he had witnessed.
And Phil Mickelson, who finished runner-up to McIlroy said: "It reminds me of the best performance I've ever seen, which was Tiger (Woods) in the US Open (at Pebble Beach) in 2000."
©The Times, London