Commentary

McIlroy frustrated with poor play

Better days are ahead for Rory McIlroy

Updated: May 30, 2013, 11:20 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Scrub a crawl space with a cotton ball. Have a heaping spoonful of cockroach soup. Watch a "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" marathon.

These are all things Rory McIlroy looked as if he'd rather be doing Thursday than what he actually did: shoot a 6-over-par 78 in the opening round of the Memorial Tournament.

It was the kind of round that made you wonder how McIlroy ever won a U.S. Open and a PGA Championship. After he four-putted from 56 feet on his third hole of the day (three-putted from 12 feet!), you wondered if he could win a member-member.

"The game just isn't all there at the minute," said McIlroy.

The game hasn't been all there for minutes, hours, days, weeks and months. The world's No. 2-ranked player is winless this season. He missed the cut at last week's BMW PGA Championship. Unless he shoots a retirement age Friday (65, maybe 66), he's going to miss the cut here for the second year in a row.

[+] EnlargeRory McIlroy
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesA 78 on Thursday at the Memorial amounted to the worst opening round of Rory McIlroy's career.

And yet, I believe. I believe that no one as talented as McIlroy is going to stink it up like sulfur water much longer. I believe he's not allergic to his new-ish clubs. I believe this is just another Rors phase -- and it has nothing to do with his Caroline Wozniacki romance or his reported impending divorce from his second management company in the past 19 months.

"So, yeah, I mean, obviously, I haven't lived up to my own expectations this year," he said. "But I'm working hard to try to live up to them and working hard to try and get the game back to where I know it can be."

Right now, McIlroy's game is on a carton of 2 percent milk. The Memorial is his 11th event of the year. If he doesn't go way low Friday, he'll have as many missed cuts and WD's this season as he has top-10 finishes. That's not a good ratio.

He was no factor at the Masters. And who can forget what happened at the Honda Classic earlier this year, when McIlroy, the defending champion, withdrew from the tournament midway through the second round after hitting a ball in the water. First came the "I'm not in a good place mentally" comment, followed about an hour later by a McIlroy statement claiming wisdom teeth problems.

It was a rare public relations triple-bogey for McIlroy, and it created a perception that the 24-year-old Northern Irishman was perhaps out of his depth.

Sorry, I'm not buying it. McIlroy has made his share of blunders, but there's a difference between arrogance and knuckleheadedness. He botched the wisdom tooth thing, but he learned from his mistake. He'll learn from this latest winless streak, too.

"I'm pretty frustrated," said McIlroy. "I'm trying not to let it get to me. It is what it is. A few bad rounds of golf isn't going to ruin anything."

Remember what happened last year? Beginning in mid-May, McIlroy missed the cut at The Players, missed the cut at the Memorial, missed the cut at the U.S. Open, and tied for 60th at the Open Championship. The "What's Wrong With Rory" stories multiplied like fungus in a petri dish.

Then he vaporized the field at the PGA Championship and added wins at the Deutsche Bank Championship and the BMW Championship. He won the money title on both tours and was named the PGA Tour player of the year.

What was wrong with McIlroy? Not a thing.

McIlroy's putting was gruesome Thursday. Of his 78 strokes, 33 were putts. At one point he took a few practice strokes with Justin Rose's putter as they stood off the No. 6 green.

"It's probably a lack of confidence more than anything else," said McIlroy.

You think? McIlroy's body language screamed, "I'd very much like to plunge knitting needles into my eyes." He stopped for several minutes to speak to the media (classy move), ducked under a gallery rope, made his way around the practice green and then trudged up the clubhouse stairs with his father, Gerry.

McIlroy will be OK. A Thursday round of 40-38 doesn't change that. Only seven fairways hit doesn't change that. Eleven of 18 greens hit in regulation doesn't change that.

It was one round. It followed two other mediocre rounds at Wentworth last week. And they followed in a so far indifferent 2013 season. "But I'm working hard and I'm trying to figure things out, and hopefully they'll come around soon," he said.

They will. You can't see it -- yet -- but McIlroy is close. Really close. He knows it. Those close to him know it.

Soon his scorecard will know it, too.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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