Rory: I'm months from top form
RORY McILROY reckons it could take up to three months for him to become a real world-beater once again.
Yesterday's second-round 72 at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai revealed just how brittle McIlroy's confidence has become after a season of discontent.
A superlative course record-equalling 63 at Sheshan International propelled American Dustin Johnson into a commanding five-stroke lead at halfway in this World Golf Championship.
After surging to the head of the field with Thursday's superb 65, McIlroy found himself in a three-way tie for second and back in the doldrums after losing his way on the final eight holes of his second round.
It's remarkable how quickly the 24-year-old lost his mojo yesterday.
Though he loped to 10-under with birdies on six, seven and eight, an ugly bogey at 11 raised spectres of doubt which haunted McIlroy to the finish.
The Holywood native has posted back-to-back rounds in the 60s just once in 22 tournaments this year during the deepest, darkest slump of his career.
So it was always going to take much more than Thursday's 65, albeit impressive, to fully salve the pain and exorcise the frustrations of the past 10 months, which McIlroy knew well.
During last Monday's 'Match at Mission Hills' with Tiger Woods, when both golfers were wired for sound, McIlroy spoke candidly about the rehabilitation "process".
As he played the fourth hole at the Blackstoke Course, McIlroy said he was encouraged by recent performances at the Korean Open, where he tied second, and last weekend's BMW Masters .
"I'm feeling good about it, the best I've felt all year," he said. "Obviously it's been a bit of a struggle but I've done some good work on my swing and saw some really good signs in the last couple of weeks. I just need to sharpen up and take more of the birdie chances."
Significantly, he then admitted: "It's not like you can flick a switch and it's just fixed again. It can take a while and even if you feel you're on the right path, it doesn't take a week or two weeks.
"It might take a couple or three months, but as long as you know you're on the right road and working on the right things, then, sooner or later, it'll all come together."
Despite that hat-trick of birdies on the front nine yesterday, McIlroy was knocked out of his stride by a series of setbacks on the way home, beginning when he hit a wayward drive into trouble at 11.
"Disappointing, frustrating," was his assessment. "I played nicely on the front nine then started to hit a lot of sloppy shots. I missed seven greens on the back nine, including the last six in a row, so there's work needed on the range this afternoon.
"I hit a couple of bad shots and let it affect me a little bit. I started to doubt myself sometimes. I think I hit the first 10 greens then made bogey on 11, had a chance at 12, hit a bad drive up the left at 13, which sort of knocked my confidence, and struggled from there."
McIlroy also drove into bottomless rough left of 15, leading to his second bogey of the day. At the last, he hit his second shot into the lake (from a downhill lie inside the hazard line) but followed up with a towering 210-yard five-wood to 25 feet for a 'fighting' bogey six.
McIlroy thrives at Sheshan International but it also suits Johnson, as the powerful 29-year-old proved with 10 birdies yesterday.
After 36 holes with Johnson, Graeme McDowell confessed: "It was kind of tough to focus playing with Dustin when he's hitting it 350 yards in the middle of the fairways. It was kind of a little demoralising at times."
Still, back-to-back rounds of 69 lifted G-Mac into a share of fifth on six-under ... and, as he proved with his eclipse of Johnson in the final round of the 2010 US Open, if he gets the scent of victory here, McDowell will not be intimidated by anyone.
With Race to Dubai leader Henrik Stenson lying 70th with a recurrence of wrist trouble, McDowell can whittle down the Swede's €443,725 advantage with a prominent finish here and at next week's Turkish Open on a course more suited to the Portrush man.
So McDowell may be breathing down Stenson's neck at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai next Thursday week.
WGC HSBC Champions, Day 3
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