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Rory McIlroy explains how return to old technique sparked stunning Sunday putting performance at Phoenix Open

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Rory McIlroy took just 23 putts with his TaylorMade Spider X Copper Ball on Sunday.

Rory McIlroy took just 23 putts with his TaylorMade Spider X Copper Ball on Sunday.

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Rory McIlroy took just 23 putts with his TaylorMade Spider X Copper Ball on Sunday.

Rory McIlroy revealed that a return to an old putting strategy was to thank for his sparkling round with the flat-stick on Sunday.

The Holywood star, who remains sixth in the world after a tied 13th place finish at the PGA Tour's Phoenix Open, took just 23 putts in his seven under par final round 64 - a low for the entire field across the week and personally for the season so far.

It was a round that included nine birdies, largely thanks to that putting display, which was a huge improvement on the rest of the tournament, having taken 27 putts, 29 and 31 respectively in the first three rounds.

Of course, that can also hint at an improvement in approach play - and that was also true - but with 95 feet worth of putts made on Sunday, including three birdie attempts outside 10 feet, it was an unquestionable upturn in performance on the greens.

It was inspired, McIlroy explained, on the practice ground at TPC Scottsdale, where he decided to give the greens book a rest.

"With greens that I haven't seen before, I'll use the book a bit," he explained of his general strategy. "I did that for three days and it didn't really work, so I just went with my eyes and my gut and it helped. I sort of trusted it a little better and holed some putts, which was nice."

In order to increase confidence and supplement such a more laissez-faire approach, there was also a return to one old technique.

"I hit some putts today on the putting green with the mirror, and then I actually used the line on the ball for the first time in a while," he said, a practice that he extended into Sunday's round.

"Once you put the line down on the ball you're committed to, 'Okay, this is where I'm going to start it'. Just that little bit of extra trust helped."

While it's a technique employed by many successful golfers, professional and amateur alike, it's the first time in almost seven years McIlroy has employed it.

"The last time I used it regularly was leading up - I remember this - from the sixth hole on the final day at Augusta 2014 until the last day of the Scottish Open 2014," he explained, rather particularly.

During that run, McIlroy won at the BMW PGA Championship and secured top ten finishes at the Wells Fargo Championship and The Players Championship.

Of course, any temptation to laud the technique as a quickfire ticket to success would be somewhat hampered by the unhelpful reality that, immediately after ditching it last time round, McIlroy won three huge events back-to-back at The Open, The WGC Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship.

But that's all by the by. For now, all that matters is McIlroy's hoping it will continue to bear fruit.

"I won Wentworth during that stretch," he recalled. "I had my best-ever strokes gained putting round at Memorial using the line. It's something I've sort of gone back and forth with over the years. Sometimes I feel comfortable with it; sometimes not. I always seem to go back to it when I'm struggling to start it on my line or trust it."

So it is here to stay, short-term at least?

"I'll practice with it a bit next week and see if it travels back to Riviera," he concluded, ahead of a week off and subsequent return to action in the The Genesis Invitational next week.

"I'm going to get the plan perfecter out, that little machine I have, and work on that. I'm getting way too steep in the downswing, and hitting a lot of pulls and a lot of sort of weak cuts.

"So I'll work on that, try to get the club more out in front of me on the way back and try to shallow it a little bit on the way down. And then just a bunch of putting."

At least if 'the line' doesn't continue to work, there's always hope of three-in-a-row once he drops it.

Back at Scottsdale, if the final round was all about Brooks Koepka's 65 to win by one, it was also about a Jordan Spieth one over par round to surrender the 54-hole lead after that stunning 10-under-par Saturday 61.

It was nonetheless a tied fourth place finish for the former world number one, his best since the 2019 PGA Championship, and enough to shoot up 23 places in the rankings to 69th.

"I think from a viewership point of view, it definitely gets everyone excited," McIlroy said of his Ryder Cup adversary threatening to return to form. "And the way he plays... I mean, I watched the back nine (on Saturday). Absolutely insane, what he was doing. It's typical Jordan.

"I think once crowds come back, and if he starts to play a little better, it'll help him, because he feeds off that energy.

"Everyone is excited to see him up there again. He works so hard and he just hasn't really got anything out of to the last 18 months really. So it's good to see him back in the mix."

Belfast Telegraph


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