Rory McIlroy: Why misfiring Northern Irishman needs the PGA Tour's Florida swing

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Rory McIlroy lets go of his club on the 11th tee in round two
Rory McIlroy missed the cut at Riviera after playing the first two rounds in seven over par

How concerned should Rory McIlroy fans be following their hero's first missed cut in 30 events?

Perhaps the answer lies in that statistic. Such longevity and consistency for surviving to weekends is extremely rare at the highest level.

McIlroy's early exit at Riviera last week ended the longest active run for making consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour. Now Xander Schauffele - on a run of 22 in a row - sets the new benchmark on the American circuit.

They all pale compered with Tiger Woods' epic run of 142, but for McIlroy there has been a significant degree of consistency before his dismal showing in Los Angeles last week.

The Northern Irishman's last missed cut before then came at the 2019 Open at Royal Portrush.

The trouble is, the 31-year-old has never been measured on his ability simply to make the final two rounds at top events. With 28 professional titles, his career is about victories and contending in majors.

And it is now nearly 16 months and 22 tournaments since McIlroy last lifted a trophy. Furthermore, since the return from lockdown in early summer last year he has barely contended.

Underlying statistics suggest a deterioration in his play during a period in which he became a father for the first time. So much for the much vaunted 'Nappy Factor', touted as a potential source of inspiration when baby Poppy arrived on 31 August last year.

Now it is the 'Gappy Factor' that surrounds an ever widening spell between wins. McIlroy's error strewn rounds of 73 and 76 at the Genesis Invitational failed to inspire hope for a swift end to the barren period.

He did not appear to know which way his ball would fly and was bamboozled by the Riviera greens despite having finished in the top five on his last two visits there. On the face of it, there is little optimism for the next stage of the season.

Except McIlroy has a healthy and uncanny habit of snapping back into form from nowhere. After missing the weekend at Portrush in 2019 he came fourth in the WGC at Memphis the following week en route to claiming the Tour Championship.

Earlier that year he won the Canadian Open the week after an early exit from the Memorial tournament and in 2018 he won at Bay Hill fresh from missing the cut the previous week.

Now he heads into a Florida swing that offers plenty of opportunity for the Sunshine State resident to put his season back on track. It starts with this week's World Golf Championships event at the Concession near Tampa.

Switched from Mexico because of the pandemic, this is the one WGC McIlroy has yet to win. These events attract the strongest fields outside the majors and Players Championship, so that statistic is another marker of McIlroy's excellence.

As Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington smiled earlier this year: "If only we could all play as badly as Rory McIlroy."

But the four-times major champion (the last of those successes was back in 2014) is judged differently. He famously won his first two majors, the 2011 US Open and and US PGA of 2012, each by eight shots.

McIlroy remains a phenomenal talent but currently wallows in this relative slump. According to PGA Tour statistics he ranks second for strokes gained with his prodigious driving but the rest of his game does not match up.

Despite brilliance off the tee, he is comfortably outside the top 100 for approach shots (119th), his play around greens (123rd) and in putting (114th). Last Friday he took 33 blows with his short stick in his 76 second round shots at Riviera.

These are troubling figures for someone who professes to have worked hard on his game after November's Masters and did not play competitively until finishing third in January's Abu Dhabi Championship.

Of course, the return to Augusta in April is McIlroy's big priority as he seeks, once again, to become only the sixth player to complete the career grand slam. It is a feat that grows harder to accomplish with each unsuccessful attempt that passes.

He needs form and this week's venue will provide a stern test as it stages a PGA Tour event for the first time. Its slope rating is 155, meaning the 7,500-yard course, designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin, is statistically as tough as they come.

The severely sloping greens, on a layout where Bryson DeChambeau won the 2015 NCAA title, will provide a thorough examination of McIlroy's putting touch and ability to access the correct parts of putting surfaces.

All of the world's top 15 players are on show - Woods, Paul Casey and Brandon Stone - are the only eligible players not competing in a stellar field.

But more importantly for McIlroy, being a WGC, there is no cut so he has four rounds guaranteed. It is an ideal opportunity to play himself back into form.

With further stops at Bay Hill and the Players, both places where he has won, the Florida swing is a key time. If McIlroy's indifferent form continues through this period, then perhaps it would be time to worry…..a little bit.


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