Tuesday 22 October 2019

McIlroy shrugs off final-group woes as he heads to Sawgrass

Rory McIlroy: My Sundays haven’t been what I would have liked. Photo: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Rory McIlroy: My Sundays haven’t been what I would have liked. Photo: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy insists he is not suffering from a severe case of final group-itis but is playing great golf and waiting for his day to come.

What else could he say after coming up empty-handed for the ninth straight time in 13 months?

That he has held the lead just once in those nine final rounds - at the BMW PGA last May when he was tied with Sunday's impressive Arnold Palmer Invitational winner Francesco Molinari - goes some way towards explaining his barren steak.

But it's also true that he's won just once in the past 30 months and while he's had 16 top-10 finishes, including six runner-up results, in those 50 starts, he's adamant that he's happier to be in the mix than not contending at all.


"I would much rather be putting myself in position to have a chance to win," McIlroy said at Bay Hill on Sunday after carding a level-par 72 to finish tied for sixth, four strokes behind Molinari, who shot a remarkable 64 to win the tournament by two strokes.

"I'm playing good golf, it doesn't matter if I'm playing that golf on Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Yeah, my Sundays haven't been what I would have liked, but I'm putting myself in that position, so good golf is good golf, I keep saying that, at the end of the day."

McIlroy complained that he didn't hit the ball close enough on firm greens to give himself realistic birdie putts on Sunday.

In truth, he knows that had he birdied all the par-fives instead of just one of them (a wedge to 10 feet followed by two putts at the 16th), he might have been in the mix right to the end.

That he missed his target at the par-five fourth, sixth and 12th with irons in his hands after huge drives, almost certainly sealed his fate.

The world number six had a fruitless day on the greens, making just one putt outside 10 feet compared to five (and a chip in) from Molinari.

But having said in the build-up that he'll happily accept his new-found seam of consistency if he eventually gets back to winning five times per year, McIlroy was not for changing his tune after his round.

"I'm playing well, I'm getting myself into contention every week," said the Co Down man who will play just twice more before he seeks that elusive Masters victory at Augusta National in five weeks.

"That's the great thing about golf, you don't have to wait too long to get back on the horse.

"I'm happy with everything, I just think today I could have played the par-fives better. But really, apart from that, it was an unbelievable round from Francesco to shoot what he did."

McIlroy is becoming accustomed to watching others hog the limelight in the final round, just as he did at Bay Hill 12 months ago when he shot 64 to roar through from the penultimate group and end an 18-month winless streak.

He's seen Haotong Li (69), Patrick Reed (71), Molinari (68), Justin Thomas (69), Keegan Bradley (64), Tiger Woods (71), Xander Schauffele (62), Dustin Johnson (66) and Molinari again (64) leave him wondering what might have been.

But he will have another chance in The Players Championship at Sawgrass this week, where he's joined by Shane Lowry and Seamus Power hoping to win the flagship event at the 10th attempt.

Power makes his debut at Sawgrass seeking a positive week having missed the cut in nine of his 11 starts on the PGA Tour this season.


But it's just as imperative for Lowry to get back on the horse after failing to push on after his win in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and 12th-place finish in the Dubai Desert Classic.

Sandwiching a 62nd-place finish in the WGC Mexico Championship between missed cuts at Pebble Beach and Bay Hill has left the Offaly man 45th in the world.

And with only the top 50 after the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play on March 31 exempt for the Masters, a solid week in Jacksonville would be welcomed.

Gavin Moynihan, Robin Dawson and Michael Hoey will be chasing Race to Dubai points in the Magical Kenya Open on the European Tour this week.

Leona Maguire, meanwhile, tees it up in the Florida's Natural Charity Classic looking to improve on Sunday's share of 25th in the SkyiGolf Championship on her 2019 on the Symetra Tour debut.

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