McIlroy on the rise as he begins to piece game together
Rory McIlroy has moved up two places in the latest Official World Golf Rankings after his second-placed finish at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last weekend.
It was a mixed few days for the Ulsterman as despite finishing runner-up to Italy's Francesco Molinari, who also made a significant surge up the rankings, he was frustrated to surrender a three-shot lead going into the weekend.
Nevertheless, McIlroy has moved above Rickie Fowler and Jason Day in the rankings to World No.6 thanks to his finish, the highest he's been since October of last year.
Molinari jumped 12 places to World No.20 with his victory, while McIlroy's fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell moved back into the world's top 200 at 195th having finished in a tie for 12th in Surrey.
As well as that, McIlroy is now second in the Race to Dubai, the European Tour's Order of Merit, following the result, with Masters champion Patrick Reed well clear at the top.
Molinari is third due to his substantial pay-day from the European Tour's flagship event, with Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Alex Noren and Tommy Fleetwood - who were all in contention on Sunday afternoon - in hot pursuit.
Despite the disappointment of losing that three-shot lead at the midway point of the tournament, things are definitely looking up for McIlroy, who again showed glimpses of what he can do at his peak.
His Friday performance was outstanding - so much so that playing partner Noren called it the best round he's ever seen - and, when you add in his first three days at Augusta and his win at Bay Hill, there has been enough to suggest McIlroy has a strong run in him at some point.
Winning at Wentworth in 2014 set him up for a big summer that saw him win The Open, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA Championship in consecutive starts. While he may not have won last weekend, he was close enough that confidence will surely follow.
But there is a cautionary tale in all of this. McIlroy has been in with a shot of winning tournaments five times this year and on four of them hasn't been able to get over the line.
Putting in four strong rounds has been the elusive thing McIlroy has been looking for. At Wentworth, it was Saturday that wasn't quite good enough. At Augusta, Sunday let him down. Similarly in Abu Dhabi and the UAE, he couldn't get that one step ahead on the Sunday.
The 29-year-old is still making adjustments - Brad Faxon is aiding him with his putting and Michael Bannon is back on board to refine the edges of his game. The signs of improvement are there, he just needs them to click at the right time.
"When you're working through a bit of a swing change or a swing tweak, it takes more than a week's work to try to bed it in," McIlroy said on Sunday. "This (was) my first competitive start since trying to rectify things.
"I think as a tournament goes on you're not spending as much time on the range because you're into play mode.
"Maybe I just got away from a few of the things I was working on at the start of the week, which is the way, when you get under pressure and you're forced to hit shots, you revert back to what you've been doing."
And then came the one line we've been used to hearing from McIlroy over the past few years.
"It's close, it's very close," he added. "I've given myself a great chance this week. I didn't quite pull it off but it's not far away.
"I get a bit down on myself because my expectations are high, and with a 36-hole lead I should have closed it out this week."
Maybe he should have. But at least this time when McIlroy says he's close, you believe him.
Meanwhile, England's Justin Rose has displaced Jon Rahm as the top-ranked European player after his win at the Fort Worth Invitational at the weekend.
Rose has risen to World No.3, with Rahm staying at No.4 having finished in a tie for fifth.