Sport Golf

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Rory bids to prove slump is just a blip

William S Callahan

RORY McILROY throws himself headlong into the heat and humidity of the FedEx St Jude Classic in Memphis today clearly hoping that the patron saint of lost causes will help him recover his competitive edge in time for next week's US Open.

McIlroy will at least be in friendly company as he tries to end a worrying run of three successive missed cuts. The 23-year-old plays the first two rounds at TPC Southwind in a fascinating all-Ireland three-ball with Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington.

The surprising decision to break with the formula which helped him to US Open glory last June and play the week before a Major was prompted by McIlroy's belief that a lack of tournament golf led to his form slump.

Honest enough to admit at Wentworth that he'd taken his "eye off the ball", McIlroy accepted responsibility for lacklustre performances at The Players in Sawgrass, Europe's BMW PGA and the Memorial Championship.

Yet, in his quest to compensate for this complacency, is McIlroy wise to adopt a new tack the week before his defence of the US Open title?


Jack Nicklaus, the tournament host at Memorial and an enthusiastic mentor for the Holywood star, clearly was surprised when the Ulsterman's decision to play Memphis arose during an interview he and McIlroy did.

"Did you play the week before the US Open last year," Nicklaus asked, his eyebrows raising. "No," replied McIlroy.

"And you're going to play the week before the Open this year," Nicklaus continued.

"Yes," said McIlroy.

"I'll keep my mouth shut," said the 18-times Major-winner, but his quizzical expression said it all.

After explaining how experience persuaded him never to play the week before a Major, Nicklaus added fondly: "Look, I'm a big fan of this guy and I want him to get smart young."

McIlroy explained: "I need competitive rounds just to get myself back into it -- just to get that competitive sharpness more than anything else."

Asked if it had been a shock to lose form so fast, McIlroy said: "I think that's just golf. You're not going to play well all the time. You're going to have periods where you struggle and find the game quite difficult, just like you are going to have times when it seems like everything comes easier.

"I think it's just the golfing gods, or whoever it is up there, just reminding me the game isn't as easy as it seems sometimes. It's never easy to win but it's a lot easier when you're playing well.

"The key is winning golf tournaments when you're not playing so well. That's something I feel I'm still learning to do," added McIlroy.

At least missing the cut at Memorial gave McIlroy the opportunity for a four-day visit to the course at Olympic, which stages the US Open and, as he conceded, "takes a bit of learning."

Harrington, who has missed the cut in three of his last four tournaments, begins an unprecedented run of four successive tournaments. He then plays the US Open, followed by Travelers in Connecticut before he links up with McDowell and McIlroy at the Irish Open in Royal Portrush.

St Jude Classic,

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Irish Independent

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