Golf

Rory the next Phil, not next Tiger

Image: Rory McIlroy (Alastair Grant, AP)
Rory McIlroy is finding advice everywhere at Muirfield.
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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MUIRFIELD, Scotland

Everyone seems to have a tip for Rory McIlroy these days.

We’re almost at the stage when someone will churn out that old chestnut and remind the world No. 2 to keep his left arm straight and his head down when he swings.

Nick Faldo thinks McIlroy needs to work harder.

Johnny Miller thinks McIlroy's slump has been caused by young love.

They both point fingers of blame at a multimillion-dollar switch to Nike equipment, and Miller has noticed that McIlroy’s shoulders are too open at address.

Not that any of this isn’t true – at least partially – but perhaps it’s worth remembering that McIlroy arrived at last year’s Open Championship having missed the cut in three of his previous four events. And he limped to a tie for 60th at Royal Lytham and St. Annes to further set tongues wagging.

But what did he do after that?

Only win three times on the PGA Tour, including claiming his second major, the PGA Championship, by eight shots at Kiawah Island.

The problem with Rory isn’t really Rory, it’s those who think he’s the next Tiger.

The truth is that the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland has the game but not the consistency to be this generation’s Tiger. He is, instead, as I’ve argued before, the next Phil Mickelson: brilliant in his day and close to unbeatable but AWOL for long stretches.

“You know what’s happening to Rory,” Faldo said. “He is still testing clubs. And a lot is going on. He’s busy still trying putters, still trying drivers. It’s not easy. I hope he hasn’t gone too far, but it’s damaged his confidence.”

Miller is sure McIlroy’s romance with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki has taken his focus away from golf.

"I think he's in love for the first time," Miller said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's a wonderful feeling, and it's distracting.”

Let’s see: Practice hitting golf balls or spend the weekend in Paris with your glamorous girlfriend?

"Then I would say it's one thing to change your driver or wedge, but you're asking for huge trouble when you change all your clubs and your golf ball at the same time,” Miller added. “I did it with Wilson, and I went into an immediate slump for four or five months.”

McIlroy fronted the media ahead of this week’s 142nd Open Championship and did his best to remind all those with advice that golf is not an easy game.

“It seems like a few guys have forgotten in a short space of time how hard you have to work and how tough this game can be,” he said, not naming names.

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He did respond to Faldo’s assertion that McIlroy – like Mickelson not noted for his time spent on the practice range – needs to work harder.

“He said I should be at the course 9 to 5,” McIlroy said. “I actually was on the range at 6:15 (a.m.), and got out of the gym at 6:15 (p.m.), actually a 12-hour day compared to his 8-hour day. Nick should know how hard this game is at times. And he's been in our position before. And he should know how much work that we all do put into it.”

Asked to assess his game, McIlroy said it was “a bit of a contrast” but preferred to look at the big picture.

“There's been times where it felt not too hard and I went on a great run from this point last year until the end of the season,” he said. “It's like life. You're going to go through highs and you're going to go through lows. It's just about trying to work your way out of the lows.

“Yeah, I haven't played my best golf this year, but I've showed signs that it is there. It's just a matter of trying to do that more often. It's been difficult to try, I guess, and explain why I'm not playing well or why I haven't had the results that I've wanted over the past six months.

“But I know that I'm working on the right things and I know that I'm doing the right things and I'm staying patient. And I know sooner or later it will turn around and I'll play the golf that everyone knows that I'm capable of and the golf that I know, that's capable of winning major championships. Sooner or later it will turn around and I'll be back lifting trophies.”

Of that, there is no doubt. He’s simply too talented not to find form again. In the meantime, he’s trying not to read too much of what’s written and looks to his friend Woods for inspiration.

“Tiger – more than anyone else in this game, probably more than anyone else in sport – has been scrutinized and criticized throughout his entire career,” he said, repeating a line Woods often likes to use.

“He set the bar so high, and that's the expectations that everyone thought he was going to live up to. And it was only a couple of years ago that he had dropped outside the top 50 in the world. And he's worked his way back up. And he's now the best player in the world again.”

By far the most revealing thing McIlroy said, however, was in an answer to a question about whether he could – like Faldo and Miller and Woods – be obsessed with golf, living and breathing it every minute of every day.

“I could never,” he said.

“I’m not like that.”
 

Tagged: Rory McIlroy, Nick Faldo, Johnny Miller

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