Rory feeling the strain but he will come good
Rory McIlroy almost snorted at the suggestion that a tie for sixth place with Alvaro Quiros represented “a decent defence” of his Omega Dubai Desert Classic title.
The days of being satisfied with top-10 finishes are long gone. McIlroy was frustrated, even furious with himself for not, at the very least, hounding Spain's magnificent playoff-winner Miguel Angel Jimemez, 46, all the way to the podium.
In truth, the real Rory McIlroy didn't turn up on Saturday or Sunday at The Majlis Course, a track which fits his eye so nicely, he'd usually make birdies for fun.
The recurrence of a chronic lower back strain, which required him to wear heavy strapping and take anti-inflammatory tablets as he played, certainly took its toll.
After following McIlroy, step-by-step, for 14 of his final 36 holes, I recall him less than a handful of shots with that ‘wow' factor we've come to expect from this remarkable young man.
When he stitched his mid-iron approach to the pin at 14 on Saturday, for example; his superlative 5-wood out of a fairway bunker at the par five third on Sunday or the tee shot he arrowed brilliantly through a blustery crosswind into seven feet at the next.
Explaining the nature of his lower back injury, McIlroy says: “It's something that's been at me the last couple of years, which is why I went to physio Cornel (Driesson), who works with the South African rugby and hockey teams and does a couple of guys on tour.
“Everyone talks about this (double) movement in my swing, where the hips whip back and then forward. It puts a little strain on the lower back so I do all the exercises I can to make everything stronger around the joints. If I play two weeks in a row, it's fine; three weeks it starts to niggle and four weeks it starts to hurt.”
Yet McIlroy's failure “to get anything going” at the weekend in
Dubai cannot be attributed solely to this sacroiliac problem (which, incidentally, he expects to clear up in time for tomorrow week's first round clash with Kevin Na at the Accenture Match Play).
Nor can it be cited as the reason why McIlroy, 20, arguably the most exciting young player in golf, has ‘just' one victory to show for nearly 30 months on Tour and has not visited the winner's enclosure since last February in Dubai.
So what's wrong with Rory?
The short answer is ‘not a lot' — after all, he yesterday displaced Padraig Harrington as Ireland's top world-ranked player, rising to a career-high seventh as the Dubliner slipped to 10th after missing the cut in his 2010 pipe-opener, the Northern Trust in Los Angeles.
He owns a palatial new home on 13-plus acres outside the Co Down village of Moneyreagh. A Lamborghini, an Audi RS and the latest Audi 4x4 gleam in the garage, while work is about to begin on installing a top class practice facility.
So high has McIlroy's stock soared, his agent Chubby Chandler last weekend had to deny UK media speculation that Nike were about to sign him up on a US$40m deal to replace Tiger as their front man.