Rory McIlroy is still looking for a jolt to his stagnant form as he defends his Players Championship title this week at TPC Sawgrass
The last time Rory McIlroy played a full week at the Players Championship, the strut was in full form. It was the walk of a man who knew he was the best player in the world and confident he could beat anyone in any given week.
Fast forward two years and that swagger is nowhere to be seen. McIlroy left the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week a frustrated and dejected man, despite finishing in the top-10. He wasn’t sure what the state of his game was. He had his best week of the season on the greens, but his ball-striking displayed a staggering inconsistency.
After shooting a four-over 76 on Sunday, McIlroy admitted his game needed a spark. As he prepares to defend his title at TPC Sawgrass that he won two years ago (last year’s tournament was canceled after the first round), he’s still looking.
“Yeah, I think it was just me walking off the course not having my best day and I guess sort of venting a little bit to whoever was there at the time. So that was really it,” McIlroy said on Tuesday at his pre-tournament press conference.
McIlroy held a share of the first-round lead last week at Bay Hill. He picked up more than three shots on the field with his approach shots, which ranked third out of 123 players. By the weekend, though, he lost two shots with his irons, dropping to 67th out of 72 players to make the cut. He still finished the week ranked behind only Bryson DeChambeau in driving distance and picked up his ninth top-20 finish in his last 11 starts, but there were still few positives to take away from the week.
“Look, I did feel dejected. I felt disappointed,” he said. “I think one of the biggest things is, it’s funny, I’d almost feel better if my game was worse. But it’s the inconsistency of, I shot 66 on Thursday and thought, I’ve got it. I feel really good. And then I didn’t quite have it. The ups and downs are just a little too much.”
Can Rory McIlroy rediscover a vintage version of himself at TPC Sawgrass?
When McIlroy won at TPC Sawgrass in 2019, it was part of a run where he finished in the top-10 in 14 of 18 tournaments, including three wins, and reached No. 1 in the world rankings for the first time in five years. But then, right here at the Players a year ago, the PGA Tour joined the rest of the sports world in shutting down.
McIlroy hasn’t been the same since. When the tour returned after a three-month hiatus in June, he went eight straight weeks without a top-10 finish, his worst stretch since 2017-18. He hasn’t won since the WGC-HSBC Champions in November 2019. He’s now fallen out of the top-10 in the world rankings for the first time in three years. The swagger, so prominent here two years ago, is gone, a distant memory.
McIlroy, two months away from turning 32, did admit on Tuesday he thinks his best days are still ahead. But whatever that spark is that he’s looking for, he hasn’t found it yet.