“It’s been difficult to try, I guess, to explain why I’m not playing well or why I haven’t had the results that I’ve wanted over the past six months,” McIlroy said. “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.”
If only everyone else could remain so. Not since Tiger Woods was McIlroy’s age — still just 24 — has golf seen a character whose every shot, every move, was this picked apart. Last summer, he won the PGA Championship, his second major in as many years. He closed the season with three more wins, a second and a third in his final seven starts.
And now, since his 2013 has been littered with lousy results — three missed cuts, a bizarre withdrawal, just one finish in the top five and nary a win — and he has uprooted from his Northern Ireland home to Florida, and he appears in the process of switching his management company for the second time in as many years, and he spends off weeks in Monaco with his tennis-playing girlfriend, and he actually seems to need to get away from his sport . . . well, some in golf won’t have it.
“You need 100 percent concentration — off the golf course, practicing — as well,” said three-time Open champion Nick Faldo earlier in the week. “Most ideal thing is to go to the club [at] 9 in the morning, hit balls all day long, and you leave at 5. …
“You have a window of opportunity. That’s my only words of wisdom to Rory. You have, say, a 20-year window as an athlete. Concentrate on golf, nothing else.”
McIlroy’s retort Wednesday: He had arrived at the range at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday and finally departed the gym at 6:15 p.m., “actually a 12-hour day compared to his eight-hour day.” He came to Muirfield a week early and has played what 108 holes — the equivalent of six full rounds — of preparation.
“Nick should know how hard this game is at times,” McIlroy said.
The field here is 156 strong, and each of them, in their own way, knows precisely how difficult it is. But even as Faldo, say, in his prime, went through divorces and became fodder for the Fleet Street tabloids, he never had his golf game dissected as McIlroy’s is. Sergio Garcia, when he was just entering his 20s, had much expected of him, and his failures — and some of his high-profile romantic relationships — were analyzed. Phil Mickelson’s quest for a major, which ended in 2004, was a sustaining story line for a time.