Rory McIlroy faces a desperate race to discover what is behind his recent dip in form ahead of next month’s Masters.
The precocious Ulsterman slipped out of the world’s top ten to 11 with his poor showing at the WGC CA Championship in Florida at the weekend, finishing third from bottom of the field.
He opened with a four over 76 and followed that with three successive one over rounds of 73 to finish one seven over, a full 20 shots behind the winner, a resurgent Ernie Els.
McIlroy insists that the back injury which prevented him from making a more robust defence of the Dubai Desert Classic in January is not affecting his swing.
“The back isn't worrying me, but it's getting me down,” he said on Sunday evening.
“Half of it is probably mental. I'm starting off in a negative mood.”
That is worrying, given that he has spent time with sports psychologist Dr Bob Rotella whose work with Padraig Harrington produced precisely the opposite effect.
Of course, it takes time for new ideas to bed in and perhaps McIlroy is merely over-analysing his game by seeking help on perceived weaknesses.
He has already identified his putting as the weakest part of his game and has spent hours working with putting guru Paul Hurrion and countless more on the practice greens.
It was because McIlroy was so startlingly consistent towards the end of last season, and because he burst onto the American scene this time last year with such aplomb, that a couple of poor weeks prompt such searching questions when most players can go months without even coming remotely close to challenging for a title.
McIlroy has a week off until he tees it up again at Arnold Palmer’s Invitational at Bay Hill and then plays the Shell Houston in Open the week before heading to the Masters.
He is at the Augusta National at the moment for a couple of practice rounds to check out first hand any changes from last year’s set-up and to try to get to grips with those notoriously undulating, quick greens.
He handled them well enough on his debut 12 months ago when he finished in a tie for 20th place.
Meanwhile, there is still no sign of Tiger Woods’ return to the game despite speculation that PGA commissioner Tim Finchem would announce a date at a press conference last night.
Speaking on television on Sunday, Finchem said he was as excited as everyone else to get Woods back and he sensed his return would be soon.
But instead he was merely announcing a new tournament sponsorship deal.
We have the general information that Tiger is preparing to play and there's been a lot of speculation about when he might come back out,” said Finchem.
“Tiger's indicated to us that he will give us reasonable notice because we know we've got some preparation to do.
“But I don't have a specific date when he's going to come back and I can only assume, though, that all this speculation about late March and early April, if he is going to start back then, we will know soon.”
Woods has until Friday to hand in his entry if he intends to play at Bay Hill — where he has won seven times in the past and a place has been held open for him on the Isleworth team for the Tavistock Cup which takes place on Monday and Tuesday. Graeme McDowell has been named on the opposing Lake Nona side.
There will be a £10,000 first prize and total prize fund of £40,000 when Galgorm Castle hosts the first ever EuroPro Tour event in Northern Ireland this summer.
The 54-hole tournament will begin on June 23 and a pro-am on June 22 will be this year’s George Best Foundation fundraiser.