Rounding Into Form
Rory McIlroy has been rounding himself into form at the beginning on 2019. The 29-year old former world #1 (who is currently #6) has finished 4th, 5th, 4th and runner-up in his last four starts on the PGA Tour. Encouraging surely, but all falling short of what really matters to a player like McIlroy which is winning so while playing well is grand; without winning it is a hollow consolation.
It has been exactly a year since the Northern Irishman claimed his last victory here at Bay Hill at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. His play during that time has been consistent but he has not had the sustained periods of brilliance that he has had at times during his first dozen years as a professional. Because when McIlroy is in full flight there is no player in the world (with apologies to DJ, Spieth, Koepka and Rose-and no Patrick Reed, you don’t make this list) that can match his supreme talent.
One of the reasons for McIlroy’s streaky play is that by today’s standards he has a long and somewhat languid swing. One which relies on timing and rhythm more than most top-flight players. When he has those moving parts happening when they should, that naturally elevates his confidence and he seems to play with a knowledge that he is unbeatable. A deadly combination for his fellow competitors.
In the last twelve months he has been paired in the final group on Sunday eight different times (he has had 11 Top Ten finishes in 22 world-wide starts) but has not claimed victory in any of those contests.
He is unperturbed by his lack of Sunday success saying that: “The consistency in my game, consistency in my mindset, my thinking, not getting ahead of myself, staying patient, I think by doing that I’ll find myself in this position more often. And any time you’ve had success on a course before, that gives you confidence. I’ve been trending in the right direction this year.”
Last year, McIlroy was in a similar place with his game before his win at Bay Hill so his American wife, Erika, suggested that they go to the Happiest Place on Earth (when in Orlando) to see Mickey, Minnie and the gang. Spending a lighthearted afternoon at Disney World was just the tonic McIlroy would need to grab his first Bay Hill victory.
Naturally, the McIlroys’ didn’t want to mess with their good Mojo, so after his second round on Friday, they wiled away the afternoon at the Magic Kingdom with Snow White and her friends, Simba and his pride and Goofy and his assembled furry friends.
That fun-filled adventure would be the precursor to McIlroy’s 6-under par 66 on Saturday’s third round which vaulted him up the leaderboard into second place at 8-under for the tournament. He would be one shot behind over-night leader, England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, heading into Sunday’s final round.
McIlroy though couldn’t recapture the magic from last year and his pedestrian closing even par-72 would leave him in a tie for 6th.
Italian star, Francesco Molinari, the reigning Open Champion shot a scintillating 8-under par 64 that left him two shots clear of Fitzpatrick. This is the third career PGA Tour win for the likeable 36-year old from Turin and he joins an illustrious list of European players who have won Arnie’s tournament.
For McIlroy the search for his next win is ongoing. He has not quite found the form that he had when winning the 2011 U.S. Open with a record score of 16-under or when he demolished the best field in golf at the 2012 PGA Championship winning by a whopping 8 shots, but he is not far off. One gets the feeling that all the stars are about to align and we are going to be witness to some historic play.