DEREK LAWRENSON: Seven years since his last major win causes a lot of scar tissue at Rory McIlroy with genuine concerns about his future after a disastrous Masters show
- McIlroy will try to solve his technical problems under new coach Pete Cowen
- Six-time major winner Nick Faldo is more concerned about the mental toll
- Former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley sees stress all over his face
It has now been nine years since Rory McIlroy arrived on the coast of Kiawah Island in South Carolina and swept the field to win the US PGA Championship by a record eight-shot margin.
His second win in a Grand Slam event at just 23 years old easily coincided with all those successes at the London Olympics going on at the same time. We wondered giddily: how many majors will he win in the end? Could he beat Gary Player’s nine, the best ever by a non-American golfer?
In five weeks, McIlroy returns to Kiawah, accompanied by a somewhat bleak soundtrack and genuine concerns about his future. After a disastrous performance at the Masters, with his first missed midway point at Augusta since 2010, Sir Nick Faldo hasn’t softened the daunting task ahead of him to reboot Rory.
Rory McIlroy missed the mid-cut at Augusta for the first time since 2010
It’s one thing to fix his technical issues under the tutelage of new coach Pete Cowen. Six-time big winner Faldo is more concerned about the mental toll.
“We are now seven years since the last of his four big wins and that is an awful lot of scar tissue,” said the Englishman. “Never forget that this game is like a knife, where trust and confidence can be cut away all at once.”
Sky Sports analyst Paul McGinley agrees that there is “an awful lot of work to be done.” Indeed, there is a compelling argument to believe that McIlroy is currently trapped in the worst slump of his career.
In the past month he missed the cut by miles at the Players Championship, was beaten by Ian Poulter at the WGC Match Play and now is Augusta, where the cruel truth is the only memorable shot he hit, the shot against his father . Gerry’s leg in the first round.
McGinley can see the lines of tension across McIlroy’s face. The former Ryder Cup captain sees a player trying too much and working too hard to make things right.
The former number 1 in the world is currently stuck in the worst slump of his career
“I think it would be best for Rory to put the clubs away for a fortnight and soak up the sun somewhere on a beach and clear his mind,” McGinley said. “Sometimes the harder you try, the worse it gets in this game, no matter how talented you are.”
McIlroy’s bitter disappointment at the Major’s end that he longs for more than any other was evident. Refusing to speak to the media, he walked disconsolately to the parking lot. Now five weeks to the next major, which should be filled with so many happy memories. He will then be 32 and 18 months have passed since a victory of any kind.
In any case, McIlroy was in very good company among the fallen at Augusta. The 50 leading players and draws play at the Masters over the weekend and since there were only 88 participants in the beginning, including some old champions who were guaranteed to be in the back markers, it was curious how many stars failed to make it.
The list was headed by defending champion Dustin Johnson, who dropped three shots in the last four holes to miss by a few. The world number 1 fell under a cloud in this event, after the recent death of his grandfather, who taught him the game.
Six-time major winner Nick Faldo is more concerned about McIlroy’s mental toll
Struggling, perhaps, he had a terrible time on the greens, putting three times in 36 holes six times. “I hit the ball fine, but I just couldn’t get the speed off the greens,” he complained. A native of South Carolina, he expects to get his game through Kiawah again.
It’s hard not to feel a huge sympathy for Brooks Koepka, another one to miss. After winning four majors in three years, the 30-year-old has had a miserable time with injuries, and there is great fear that his right knee will never fully heal. Three weeks after surgery on a dislocated kneecap, he couldn’t cope with walking up the steep Augusta hills.
Lee Westwood also missed due to a stroke, although, with his 48th birthday in sight, he rightly accepts that there will be weeks like this. Then there’s Danny Willett, who has only cut halfway at Augusta in five games since winning the Masters in 2016.
Of course, none of this would have comforted McIlroy.
Two Masters in the space of 150 days seemed like heaven sent to Rory to complete the Grand Slam career. Instead, they have come and gone with the dream that looked further away than ever.