At Rory McIlroy’s pre-Open press conference, one rather interesting statistic was highlighted ahead of the Holywood man’s final chance at winning a Major in 2021.
“Of the last nine times you’ve missed the cut, three (of your next starts) you’ve won,” pointed out an American journalist.
A fine statistic indeed, one which has significant relevance given that McIlroy has been at Royal St George’s since Saturday trying to get a leg up on his opposition by scoping out the course early due to his missed cut at the Scottish Open.
For reference, those wins came at this year’s Wells Fargo, after missing the cut at The Masters; the 2019 Canadian Open, after missing at the Memorial; and the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational, after missing at the Valspar. To add more intrigue, while his performance at the Wells Fargo wasn’t vintage McIlroy, you could argue his wins in Canada and Bay Hill were two of his more complete winning displays of his career.
Obviously the ideal circumstance wouldn’t have been that McIlroy would have missed the cut at The Renaissance Club last week. But, as the man himself is keen to point out, it could be a blessing in disguise, both from a preparation point of view and - if you believe in fate - a statistical point of view.
“As missed cuts go, this wasn’t necessarily a bad one. I wasn’t planning on playing the Scottish Open a few weeks ago anyway, so just to get a couple of competitive rounds in and just learn a little bit more and figure out what I need to do (was good),” pointed out McIlroy.
“Look, it would have been great to stay and play an extra couple days in Scotland, but to be down here and get a few holes in on Saturday, play a full round on Sunday, it felt like I got a bit of a head start on the rest of the field, which feels good.”
The question is, will it be enough? The hope is that those two extra days will not only have given him much-needed preparation from a course perspective, but also from a performance one, too. But the fixes from that below-par (pun intended) outing in North Berwick will have to be quick indeed.
The World No.11 thinks there has been progress with swing coach Pete Cowen, who is at Royal St George’s, at least, adding: “I feel like I figured something out on Sunday here, which has been really good. I hit the ball great on the range and I hit the ball well today on the course. I feel good about where I am going into the week.”
The evidence was there to some degree yesterday. He played 11 holes, joining Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood and Danny Willett on the front nine before breaking off and playing the 17th and 18th with Rafa Cabrera Bello, who happened to be passing.
There were undoubtedly positives. One thundering tee shot down the seventh, a brutal par-five playing into the wind, incredibly left him with only an iron to the green. The two-iron looks to be in good nick, too, with a low, piercing ball flight both hugely effective and also dazzlingly impressive.
But some wayward tee shots had him fishing in the bag for another ball to rectify a slight mistake that saw him miss a fairway. For all the work done with Cowen, he is still battling with his swing. That iron into the seventh was pushed right but still found the green. Likewise off the tee at the eighth, pushed right into the rough. Had they been in tournament play, neither would have been fatal, but they don’t help.
So, which Rory McIlroy are we going to get come tomorrow afternoon? Will it be the swashbuckling McIlroy who won at Quail Hollow and, up until the back nine on Sunday, gave Jon Rahm a run for his money at the US Open? Or will it be the McIlroy who just squeezed into the weekend at Mount Juliet two weeks ago and then missed the cut in North Berwick?
Such is his fickle form currently, the odds are akin to a coin flip. At least he’s saying all the right things, but then when has the 32-year-old ever cut a pessimistic figure prior to a Major? Perhaps that positive mindset is the key to working his way back into the winner’s circle on a regular basis.
“I’ve always tried to figure out, okay, why did this week not go so well? And then you give yourself a couple of thoughts and they’re fresh in your mind going into the next week,” added McIlroy. “That’s why I say in golf there’s always next week, and that’s a great thing, because you can right some wrongs quickly.”
If the stats are to be believed, this week, more than any other, could be the week he rights those wrongs at the perfect time.
And not to forget the other Northern Ireland man in the field at Royal St George’s this week - who was one of the last players on the range yesterday evening, at the (relatively) late time of 7.30pm? That would be 2011 Open champion at this very venue, Darren Clarke. At 52, there’s life in the old dog yet.
Tomorrow’s selected tee times:
08:25: Darren Clarke, Bernd Wiesberger, Joe Long (a)
09:58: Shane Lowry, Jon Rahm, Louis Oosthuizen
12:42: Padraig Harrington, Brad Kennedy, Sam Forgan
15:21: Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed, Cameron Smith