Rory McIlroy, after a Players Championship week that was uneasy, was asked if its summation was too. Perhaps surprisingly, it wasn’t.
He wrapped things up in two words.
“Very blah,” McIlroy said.
That about says it all. Short, but unsweet. McIlroy shot rounds of four-over 76 and one-over 73, he played no favorites with his struggles at TPC Sawgrass, and the world No. 3 was shockingly finished after 36 Players holes. He was left to answering why, though Saturday he confirmed at least one thought.
To catch everyone up here, over the past year or so, there’s been the golf, and then there’s been LIV Golf, and PGA Tour players leaving for LIV Golf, and the PGA Tour reworking its model as a response to the fight. Among the more recent changes, announced just last week, the Tour will play eight designated events next year without a cut, and only 50 players — the top 50 from the prior year’s year-long standings — will be guaranteed spots in those events.
Then there’s been McIlroy, who’s taken on the mantle of Tour spokesman. Through defending the established brand and spearheading some of the moves, he’s been the face. And that led to this exchange on Saturday.
“There’s a theory that everything else — on schedules, board meetings, talking about all this stuff — is taking quite a lot out of you. What do you make of that? Is that fair?”
“Yeah, it is fair,” McIlroy said. “I’d love to get back to being a golfer, yeah. Look, it’s been a busy couple of weeks, and it’s been — honestly it’s been a busy sort of six or eight months. But as I said at the start of the week, everything has sort of been announced now, and the wheels have been put in motion, so it should obviously quiete down from here.”
“How hard has it been to just focus on being a golfer?”
“Yeah, it’s just the time management,” McIlroy said. “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.”
In short there, “this other stuff” has been a lot. Of course, McIlroy is the world No. 3. Over the past few months, he’s been No. 1. In four events this year, he’s won once, and last week, he tied for second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Still, unfair or not, the standard is higher for McIlroy. And this week, his numbers were ghastly. He struggled off the tee — in the first round, he was 88th (-0.649) in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee. He struggled around the green — in the round one, he was 142nd (-3.048) in SG: Around the Green, and in the second, he was 126th (-1.220). He struggled with his putting — he was 137th (-2.594) and 91st (-0.490), respectively.
So is this a blip? In this way, golf does not discriminate. Or the start of a trend?
We’ll know soon, though the answer may come in the heart of golf’s year. In two weeks, McIlroy will play the match play event. He’ll take a week off.
Then it’s the Masters.
“Just it is what it is,” McIlroy said. “I actually don’t feel like I’m playing that badly at all. A few miscues here and there, putted it off the 6th green yesterday, and just stuff that — just a little untidy here and there.
“But hit the ball OK. Just, as I said, this course, if you’re a little off definitely just magnifies where you are.”
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