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McIlroy continues to hit the high notes despite Bay Hill blues

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Rory McIlroy hits his drive on the ninth tee during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament at Bay Hill Club & Lodge. Photo: Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

Rory McIlroy hits his drive on the ninth tee during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament at Bay Hill Club & Lodge. Photo: Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

USA TODAY Sports

Rory McIlroy hits his drive on the ninth tee during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament at Bay Hill Club & Lodge. Photo: Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

Rory McIlroy's Bay Hill blues have done nothing to diminish his status as golf's hottest ticket.

On the day when the PGA Tour announced a nine-year media rights deal that industry experts speculate is worth a cool $7 billion between 2022 and 2030 - aka part two of McIlroy's gold-plated career - the Co Down man sits atop the Official World Golf Rankings for the 100th week in his career.

Yes, he made two double-bogeys on his front nine and closed with a four-over 76, failing to challenge Tyrrell Hatton for victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday.

But he did clinch his seventh consecutive top-five finish on the PGA Tour - a feat last achieved by one Eldrick Tiger Woods - and that's not just another meaningless stat.

It's a run that includes wins in the Tour Championship and the WGC HSBC Champions, and like another Irish superstar who racked up no fewer than 29-second place finishes before going on a Major-winning spree, McIlroy knows that consistent excellence can only be a good thing as the Masters looms and he prepares to defend The Players Championship this week.

"I'm doing what I expect myself to do every week, which is giving myself a chance," McIlroy said on Sunday. "I give myself a chance most weeks, and more weeks than not, it's not going to happen.

"That's just the way golf is. I mean, I think my win percentage on Tour is like 10 per cent, and I think that's pretty high for anyone not being Tiger Woods.

"So, yeah, it's one of those things. Like, I've had chances, and I wish I had converted one of them over the last few weeks, but I'm still in good form. I'm playing some good golf. And hopefully, if I just keep putting myself in those positions, it's only a matter of time."

Missed

Since his famous missed cut at The Open last summer, McIlroy has effortlessly amassed two wins and another ten top-10 finishes in 14 starts.

When it comes to learning what works and what doesn't in the heat of battle, he's building up the kind of experience that, coupled with the four Major wins he already has on his mantelpiece, can only help his cause.

"You understand how to read a situation, and that's the one thing I can do really well now," Harrington said of the vast experience he accumulated from those near misses.

"I read the situation very well coming down the stretch. I can understand what the other players are doing, how they are feeling, what's likely to happen; who is the threat, what do I have to do; do I need to push on or is that guy going to come back to me."

The silly course set up at Bay Hill - heavy rough, rock hard greens stimping at more than 13 feet and a capricious breeze - did little to help McIlroy's cause but he will have learned a valuable lesson.

"I was very defensive out there, and that's sort of what you had to do this week, and hopefully next week we get a chance to be a little more aggressive," he said of his bid to become the first man to successfully defend The Players Championship at Sawgrass this week.

He'll be teeing it up with his two biggest rivals - Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka - with the chance to remind them that bar Woods (683 weeks) and Greg Norman (331 weeks), no-one in the history of the world rankings has spent more weeks at No 1 than him.

He might still be waiting to win a tournament with a single-digits under par winning score, but given that the McIlroy of old might have waved the white flag at Bay Hill long before Sunday night, it will be fascinating to watch him try to end his five-and-a-half-year Major drought this summer.

He may also have found a new Ryder Cup partner in Hatton, whose maiden PGA Tour win is great news for European Ryder Cup captain Harrington.

The mercurial Englishman would slip easily into a Fab Four line-up alongside McIlroy, Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood at Whistling Straits.

Irish Independent