Twelve months ago Rory McIlroy was living the dream.
These days he's grappling with life on the dark side, missing the cut at The Shell Houston Open yesterday after finishing close to the tail of the field in his two previous events, The Honda Classic and Ca Championship at Doral.
That's hardly what one might have predicted for McIlroy as he took full membership of the US PGA Tour this year — especially recalling how he bowled over America with his vivacious golf and unruly black curls in the run-up to last year's US Masters.
McIlroy, 20, cut a totally different figure in the early morning gloom at Redstone yesterday. For one, his hair is perceptively shorter, while he's also put on a bit of muscle in the 12 months since his top-20 finish here last year.
Yet McIlroy's demeanour has changed most. He struck some lovely shots during yesterday's second round, not least a breathtaking 60 yard flop shot out of semi-rough which soared as high as the average house before touching down gently just three feet from the pin at 15.
Then his par putt horseshoed out — so on McIlroy trudged to a round of one-over 73 and (at three-over for the tournament) his first missed cut in 23 events since Sawgrass last May.
The spring has gone from his step and the zip has largely vanished from his game. “I'm just not there,” he sighed. “It's such a fine line between playing the way I did at the end of last year to the way I'm playing now. It's a couple of held putts here or a good break there,” he added.
“I mean I hit it well today, a lot better than at Honda and Doral, but the way I played and the way I got myself around the golf course, I didn't deserve to well.
“At least I can spend another couple of days practicing, trying to get comfortable with what I'm trying to do with my swing and hopefully go to The Masters next week a little upbeat.”
McIlroy's hopes the buzz of Masters week and memories of his exciting debut there last season will help lift the gloom. “I'm looking forward to going back — the last time I really enjoyed myself on the golf course was when I spent three days at Augusta with a couple of friends last month,” he said.
Conversely, McIlroy's conqueror in the Race to Dubai, Lee Westwood berated himself for playing “overconfident” shots on occasions during the 68 which lifted him to within one stroke of the clubhouse lead on seven-under par. That lead was shared by Nationwide Tour graduates Alex Prugh, 25, and Cameron Percy, 35. Prugh shot 66 yesterday and Percy 69.