At the 2019 PLAYERS, the most recent edition that was actually finished, Rory McIlroy birdied five of his final ten holes to clip wily veteran Jim Furyk by one stroke.
It was the 15th victory of his PGA Tour career. Now, nearly two years later, Rory arrives at TPC Sawgrass in uncertain form. In his past 12 starts, the four-time major champion has 11 finishes of T21 or better, including five top-10s, but he is currently in his longest winless drought since 2007, and at No. 11, just fell out of the top 10 in the world for the first time in three years.
So, what is to blame?
McIlroy had a great chance to land in the winner’s circle again when he co-led last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational after 18 holes, an event that he dominated on Sunday just three years ago.
However, he shot 71-72-76 over the final three days to drop to T10, struggling with his driver in difficult Sunday conditions. His final prayer went out the window on the final day when he hit two shots in the water on the par-5 6th for a double-bogey.
Rory, though, blamed his iron play for his disappointing final round.
“Obviously the two balls in the water on 6 on Sunday cost me, but I wouldn’t necessarily call them bad drives. They weren’t much off line, and for the most part I drove the ball pretty well apart from that,” said McIlroy, on Tuesday ahead of the PLAYERS.
“Just the iron play. My par-3 play has been pretty poor, and that goes back to iron play and missing it in the wrong spots and stuff. That’s the big area of focus is just trying to get the iron play a little better.”
The 31-year-old from Northern Ireland has definitely been comfortable at TPC Sawgrass, however. In addition to the 2019 victory, he posted three consecutive top-10s from 2013-2015, and then added a T12 in 2016, which included two Sunday eagles.
The talent still appears to be there, but Rory also seems to be lacking the killer instinct that was so apparent during his time as the World’s No. 1 ranked golfer.
“You know, as I said before, the good golf is in there, and I feel capable of going out and shooting good scores any week that I play on any golf course that I play, but it’s the days where you don’t feel so good that you need to manage it and get it around in a couple under par. That’s the challenge for me right now,” said McIlroy.
“I feel like I can go out there this week and string four good rounds together, but it’s maybe just a bit more of a challenge than it maybe felt a couple years ago.
“But that’s on me to try to get a little more comfortable and work pretty hard these next couple of days to be ready to go on Thursday and feel like I’m in a bit of a better place with it all.”
He will need to “feel more comfortable” in a hurry if he wants to flip the script in his favor once again.