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Comment: Rory McIlroy must look at himself in the mirror

 

By David Kelly

Golf's lush, meticulously manicured pastures must feel for all the world like a heaving, unnavigable and lonely jungle to Rory McIlroy right now.

It is three years since the sport's most naturally gifted practitioner claimed his fourth Major title, seemingly set for a dominant, extensive reign.

But, while his career has hardly descended into hell since then, he remains a long way from those heavenly heights.

His flickering, natural genius has strayed, like too many of his recently skewed tee-shots, from the natural course it once seemed destined to pursue.

Measured by Majors, as he does himself, the drought since that 2014 success weighs heavily on shoulders that too often have appeared slumped, where once they propelled him forward in a ruthless dismissal of all his burgeoning rivals.

Instead, he has been overtaken by so many of his peers and a return to that once ultra-confident period of imperious authority grows increasingly distant.

Not only is he battling a resurgence of the gathering gaggle of players who have attempted to fill the sport's post-Tiger void, he is also jousting with the golfer's most feared opponent.

For golf is ultimately a sport whose very essence as an individual pursuit strips itself of all the virtues of the team game and devolves all liability upon the self. It is a sport of personal responsibility. And, throughout all of McIlroy's often turbulent professional and personal decision-making, it is he alone who must now shoulder the burdens of his great gift.

Some issues he has arguably confronted with a ready reckoning of ease, from his change of management to his romantic relationships. Others he has undoubtedly struggled with; chiefly, it would seem, the ongoing quest to find peace with the lucrative but professionally conflicting alteration in equipment.

Now comes the news of another high-profile fissure, his long-term caddie and friend, JP Fitzgerald.

The pair had been together for nine years which is actually a decent stretch for many professional sporting relationships, so perhaps the sundering is not as dramatic as it may appear; instead, it is its context, that of the Ulsterman's ongoing on-course difficulties, and its timing, in the middle of the month-long gap between the season's two final Majors, which provides the surprise.

Their closeness transferred from the course to the clubhouse, too, which also exacerbates the intrigue; Fitzgerald's true worth was well-established in his charge's fledgling days as a pro.

If it can be assumed that the sporting divorce was the golfer's choice then we can only hope that it moves McIlroy ever closer to addressing the only person who can extricate himself from, in relative terms, his downward spiral.

At 28, McIlroy's gifts have not deserted him. But the three-year Major drought speaks for itself.

His lax putting and waywardness from the tee are not technical imperfections but mental flaws; instead of seeking impossible perfection, he needs to rediscover himself.

It shouldn't matter who carries his clubs at the WGC in Ohio this week; ultimately, he is the one responsible when handed the stick.

US PGA venue Quail Hollow, where he has won twice and holds the course record, may revive him as he searches for answers.

He will not have to travel far to find a solution. In his Holywood home, he has established a putting studio that reflects his action in a mirror.

Perhaps, as Fitzgerald did after that wretched stretch of opening six holes on the Thursday of The Open at Birkdale, he might look himself in that same mirror and pose the same question that restored his mislaid vigour - "You're Rory McIlroy. What the f*** are you doing?"

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