It's a major headache for Rory McIlroy as his Muirfield meltdown confirms bad crash in form
Rory McIlroy's dreams of Open glory turned to dust last night after he missed the halfway cut, amid warnings that the pressure may be getting to him.
A nightmare first day at Muirfield was followed by widespread concern for the golfing star and then another poor second round.
After an opening 79, McIlroy carded a 75 yesterday to finish 12 over par – well adrift of the cut.
It is the latest setback in a dismal run for the 24-year-old, who's struggled since changing his clubs as part of a $20million-a-year deal with Nike.
However, McIlroy believes he has pinpointed what he needs to work on. "I'm disappointed but I guess I've a clearer picture of what I need to work on and what I need to do to put things right," he said after finishing his second round.
Rory left the course on day one saying he felt "brain-dead" and revealed he could return to a sports psychologist.
After missing out on the cut, on the back of a disappointing showing at the Masters and US Open, fans are now questioning what's gone wrong for the twice-Major winning star.
Speculation about pressure beginning to mount follows comments from three-time Open champion Sir Nick Faldo, who urged Rory to avoid all distractions and concentrate on practice.
Asked what has made him go into freefall, McIlroy added: "I don't know if I can single out one thing.
"I think it's been a combination of things, to be honest.
"My schedule hasn't been quite right, my swing hasn't been quite right and a combination of those has led, I guess, to sloppy play, just because I'm not sharp enough."
Close friends told the Belfast Telegraph that negative comments would only knock the Ulsterman's confidence and said critics should "get off his back".
Dr Gavin Breslin, a sport and exercise psychology expert from the University of Ulster, said McIlroy needed to reflect not just on his performance, but big changes in his life in the past 12 months.
He added: "In terms of what he is going through there are some things that need to be considered.
"The multi-million pound contract with Nike – that's a huge pressure on his shoulders, and perhaps at the moment that's just a bit much. Rory needs to reflect on the transitions he's been through or why he thinks it's going wrong, then he can get his golf back on form."
Dr Breslin said McIlroy's body language and cheery nature has definitely taken a turn for the worse.
He added: "We can see he is looking down, not up, and his negative language of 'unconscious' and 'brain-dead' isn't what we are used to seeing from the good-natured guy."
There was better news for two other Northern Ireland golfers, however, with Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell both surviving the cut.