Rory McIlroy yearns “to get back to purely being a golfer again”, with Paul McGinley claiming that his fellow Irishman’s missed cut here at the Players Championship was due to “all the bullets” he has been obliged to take on behalf on the PGA Tour.
Friday’s thunderstorms meant McIlroy had to return on Saturday morning to complete his second round and despite playing his remaining eight holes in one-under, he still fell three shots short of making the final two rounds, with a 73 leaving him in a tie for 98th on five-over.
The performance was clearly not what he was expecting after finishing second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday and his disappointment was about more than not being able to challenge for this $4.5 million first prize.
This was his final strokeplay start before the Masters in four weeks’ time, where he will have his ninth attempt at completing the career grand slam. He has plenty of rangework to do, particularly on his driving that has been uncharacteristically sloppy since wear and tear forced him to retire his former driver.
But first he must rest. McIlroy has been acting as the unofficial spokesman of the Tour’s radical overhaul introduced in response to the threat of LIV Golf.
As a member of the policy board, he attended a seven-hour meeting last Tuesday and more than anyone – including, it must be said, commissioner Jay Monahan – he has faced the press to justify the controversial changes, that from next season will see eight “designated events” with limited 70-78 fields, no cut and a minimum of $20 million purses.
McGinley does not think this has been fair on the world No 3. “This is not Rory’s Tour, it’s not Tiger’s Tour, it’s not Jay Monahan’s Tour,” McGinley said on the Golf Channel.
“This Tour is owned by the players, and if this is going to work and these new ‘designated events’ are going to work, everybody has got to go row in behind. They can’t just have one spokesperson and let him take all the bullets, everybody has got to be in there supporting and driving this ship forward.
‘I’ve maybe sacrificed time with some of this other stuff.’
“One of the features of his golf over the past 14 months has been his ability to focus. We’ve admired this from a distance, with everything going on and him front and centre. It’s quite incredible what he’s achieved. I just think Rory is tired and the battery is down. We saw some clumsiness from him here and that’s a sign that you’re not focused.
McIlroy acknowledged his fatigue and agreed that McGinley’s comments “are fair”. “I’d love to get back to being a golfer again,” he said. “Look, it’s been a busy couple of weeks and, honestly, it’s been a busy sort of six or eight months. But everything has sort of been announced now, and the wheels have been put in motion, so it should quieten down from here.
“It’s just the time management. The golf out here, that’s fine, but it’s just more the time at home to make sure you’re getting prepared, to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to be ready once you show up to these weeks. That’s where I’ve maybe sacrificed a little bit of time with some of this other stuff. As I said, I’m ready to get back to being purely a golfer.”
McIlroy will visit Augusta for a reconnaissance trip next week and then compete in the WGC Match Play in Austen. “[It’s] just making sure my game is in shape and making sure I have all the shots for Augusta,” he said. “So I’ll go up there for a couple of days and re-familiarise myself with the course. Look, I wish I didn’t have to bet on a new driver and I wish I could just use the old one, but yeah, it is what it is.
“And it’s not as big a concern at Augusta as it was here. There’s a little bit more room off the tee, and in fairness I’ve been maybe trying to push the driver a bit too much up the fairway here rather than just taking a couple of clubs less and hitting three-wood or five-wood or two-iron or whatever.
“But still, you don’t want a big mis-hit in the bag. You look at the drive I hit on the 18th [that led to a closing bogey five], and that’s way too wide for a miss. It’s things like that I need to work on.”
McIlroy played alongside Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm, and the three top-ranked players had contrasting experiences. Rahm withdrew before the second round because of a stomach bug. McIlroy missed his first cut in seven months. Scheffler went into the third round in second place on seven-under, two behind Canadian Adam Svensson.
Scheffler, the reigning Masters champion, knows he will reassume the world No 1 ranking if he finishes in the top five.