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Patience the key as Rory McIlroy attempts to solve jigsaw

 

Driving ahead: Rory McIlroy during his final round of the Genesis Open at Riviera
Driving ahead: Rory McIlroy during his final round of the Genesis Open at Riviera
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

After coming so close to winning a tournament, it's natural for players to look back across the four rounds and think to themselves, 'If only...'

For Rory McIlroy, he'll probably have a few to churn through as he digests another close but not quite weekend on the PGA Tour, this time at the Genesis Open.

The facts show he's always on the cusp of something great, the now World No.8 finishing in the top eight in 13 of the 28 events he's played in since the start of 2018. However, most telling is the fact that only one of those has seen him walk away with the trophy on the Sunday evening.

Within that lies the frustrations behind the 29-year-old. His best finishes aren't dispersed around the year, they come in concentrated batches. On four occasions in 2018 he backed up a top-eight finish with another one the following week, and he followed his Arnold Palmer Invitational win with fifth at The Masters.

But then again, he should have won at Augusta had he not collapsed at the beginning of his fourth round, and therein lies the asterisk that accompanies most of his results.

Even to begin this season, where he's already carded consecutive finishes of T4, T5 and T4 again, McIlroy will have an abundance of frustrations that he, at the very least, did not walk away with more for his efforts.

While those around him were going low in the final round at Kapalua during the Tournament of Champions, McIlroy was a paltry one-under as he was eclipsed by the rest of the challengers. At the Farmers Insurance Open, he was too far back to start the final day to mount enough of a challenge to Justin Rose.

It was similar at the weekend just gone - as much as people will question his final round performance, it was that one-over-par first round that always had him playing catch-up on Sunday.

There's plenty of reasons to be optimistic about McIlroy. He possesses star quality on his best day that, arguably, no player around him can match. When everything clicks in his game on any given week, he can make even the toughest of courses on tour look like your local pitch and putt.

At the weekend he shrugged off one of the blandest first-round performances he's had in recent memory to almost come back and win at Riviera Country Club. When he holed that bunker shot on the 16th on Sunday, we all dared to dream.

But at the end of the day, he couldn't quite muster enough to pull off the sensational.

The par-five 17th at Riviera was reachable in two. McIlroy parred it. Left with a short-iron into the 18th after another monstrous drive, he tried to muscle a wedge all the way to the back pin position and just about found the putting surface. A three-putt bogey ensured he wouldn't even hold the clubhouse lead.

Instead, he had to watch JB Holmes cosy a putt up close on the final hole and tap in for the victory, the Ulsterman walking away with a tie for fourth.

That comes back to those 'if onlys' though. If only he hadn't bogeyed the driveable 10th. If only he'd holed one more putt to close the gap in those late stages.

It's not hard to see where McIlroy's problems lie, and it's certainly not in his driving, which ranks first in shots gained tee to green on the PGA Tour. Instead, it's the bread and butter - his approach play (42nd in tee to green), around the green play (60th) and putting (60th).

We've seen him produce excellent performances in each statistic in individual rounds, but rarely have they come together for one scintillating round. His second round at Riviera wasn't far off it, but there's still more.

There's always the potential with McIlroy that he will rediscover that all-conquering form of five years ago and get back to his phenomenal best that saw him blitz fields across the world.

But there's enough there to suggest that all he needs is to be patient and wait for it all to come together. But while he waits, the questions continue to mount over whether it will ever happen.

McIlroy has won once since September 2016, and for all his close encounters he's had infinitely more near misses than trophy kisses over the last two and a half years. All too often it's one round that hurts his chances, not repetitive issues.

He heads to Mexico this week for the first WGC event of the season, and another top-five finish would signal further progress for McIlroy.

A win would be even better.

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