Rory McIlroy MISSES the cut at ‘very blah’ Players for the sixth time in his career… as he admits he’s sacrificed his game to focus on the PGA Tour’s battle with LIV Golf
- The Northern Irishman finished five-over for the tournament, missing the cut
- The threat of lightening suspended play with McIlroy finishing Saturday morning
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A missed cut, a haircut and a cut to his draining work in the minefield of golf politics as well. After a jolting week at the Players Championship, a realignment of priorities is on the agenda for Rory McIlroy as he looks to straighten out his game ahead of the Masters.
With troubling timing, it would seem the Northern Irishman’s exceptional form through 2022 and the early skirmishes of this year suddenly made way for something less desirable here at Sawgrass.
He completed his second-round 73 on Saturday after the storms of Friday, with the upshot that he failed to make a cut for only the third time since July 2021. The proximity to the season’s first major, which commences at Augusta in a little over three weeks, means his issues adapting to a new driver have taken on a degree of urgency.
He was loose off the tee across his two loops, either side of a mid-tournament haircut that tidied his look but not his game, which was also undermined further by a cold putter. Given his successes in the past year, illuminated by four wins in nine months and a second place as recently as last week, there is no sense of panic.
Rory McIlroy missed the cut at the Players Championship, finishing five-over for the event
However, there would be few who disagree with McIlroy’s own assessment that he has suffered slightly for his responsibilities at the vanguard of the squabbles with LIV and particularly in his orchestrations around the recent restructuring of the PGA Tour. Although those contributions have coincided with some of his best golf in years, and indeed he has seemingly thrived on it at times, it was likely inevitable the workload would catch up with him.
‘I’d love to get back to being a golfer,’ said McIlroy. ‘Look, it’s been a busy couple of weeks, and honestly it’s been a busy 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 quieten down from here.’
McIlroy has been one of the staunchest defenders of the PGA Tour amid golf’s civil war with LIV Golf and came out swinging once again this week in support of the recent changes to the ‘elevated’ events.
But he admitted that he has sacrificed time working on his game to focus on ‘other stuff’ – and now it’s costing him on the course.
‘It’s just the time management,’ McIlroy said. ‘The golf out here [at tournaments], 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.’
To that end, there are areas to be addressed. Top of McIlroy’s job list is correcting his tendency to miss to the right with a driver he switched to three weeks ago after its trusted predecessor was in danger of becoming non-compliant due to the springiness of its clubface brought on by age. His driving stats here ranked him 117th in the field for accuracy, which is a killer in the rough of Sawgrass but would be a little less consequential at the Masters.
He claimed he was ‘ready to get back to being purely a golfer’ amid the LIV vs. PGA Tour drama
Big mishits proved costly for McIlroy with both the driver and the putter letting him down
Arguably more worrying in the context of Augusta, and its rapid greens, will be McIlroy’s putting, with him taking 60 putts across his two rounds at the Players, costing the world No. 3 three strokes to the field.
‘Just very blah,’ McIlroy said, summing up his week. ‘Yeah, I guess the course, you just have to be really on to play well here. If you’re a little off, it definitely magnifies where you are off. It’s a bit of an enigma.
‘Some years I come here, and like it feels easier than others. It’s just a tricky golf course, and you don’t hit fairways and you’ve got your work cut out for you.
‘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 was a little untidy here and there. But I hit the ball okay.’
With less than a month until the Masters – his coveted major needed to complete the career Grand Slam – McIlroy appears set to focus more on the on-course action than the drama off it.
He said he is heading to Augusta National on Monday and Tuesday for practice rounds ahead of the first major of the year on April 6-9 in pursuit of his first Green Jacket before playing just one more PGA Tour event before the Masters, at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, on March 22-25.
‘Just making sure my game is in shape for Augusta,’ McIlroy said. ‘Making sure that I’ve got all the shots. Making sure that I familiarize myself with the golf course again and go up there for a couple of days. But yeah, from now all the way until the start of April, it’s really just all about getting ready for Augusta.’
Last year, the four-time major champion finished second at the Masters after shooting an eight-under 64 in the final round.
McIlroy began the event alongside his two World No. 1 rivals Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler with the trio all having occupied the top spot already in 2023.
The trio were due to play together on Saturday but Spaniard Rahm, who tops the FedExCup standings, withdrew prior to his second round through illness, leaving the door open for Scheffler to overtake him as World No. 1 once again.
World No. 1 Jon Rahm pulled out of the Players Championship on Friday due to illness
Scottie Scheffler (R), who was playing alongside McIlroy, could retake the World No. 1 spot
While his playing partners’ weeks at Sawgrass were cut short, Scheffler faired significantly better.
The reigning Masters champion will start the third round in the final pairing, two shots of leader Adam Svensson.
Canadian Svensson leads the Tour’s flagship event at nine-under after a birdie on the 18th saw him sign for a second round of 67.
Meanwhile, American Ben Griffin followed his opening 67 with a second round of 71 to drop back into four-way tie for third alongside Min Woo Lee, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Collin Morikawa.
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