Rory McIlroy arrived at Mount Juliet hoping to see some proof that what he was doing when he was competing at Torrey Pines can be sustained and he is heading in the right direction.
Instead, he’s off to the range for something which will likely be similar to a forensic analysis of where things went wrong.
“I certainly don’t feel as good about where I’m at compared to where I was after the US Open,” sighed the Holywood man after signing off his Irish Open with a two-over 74, which left him tied for 59th at two-under. “I just have to do some work on my game. Felt rusty in places and just got to make a few improvements over the next couple of weeks.”
This was not the display he or the fans were expecting on his return to his home Open for the first time since 2018. There were errors, wild misses and exasperated club flips and sighs aplenty.
Of his four days, he can only really look back on Friday’s five-under 67 with any real satisfaction and, even then, he had enough opportunities in that round to get into the low 60s.
That was still enough to get him into the weekend, but two more over-par rounds signalled a dismal end to a tournament that should have been a promising stepping stone towards contending at The Open, which now looms just 10 days away. Instead there are more questions than answers.
That, more than anything else, will be the main concern from this week for McIlroy. While he undoubtedly will be irked he didn’t challenge on the Sunday of his home Open, there is a bigger, more concerning picture he must look at, which culminates at Royal St George’s on Sunday week.
Everything the 32-year-old does is geared towards peaking for those four Major weeks per season, and he has only one more left this year to end that seven-year gap between now and his last victory at a Major.
After being in the thick of things at Torrey Pines two weeks ago, the hope was that was a signal he was back in the Major mix. But this week feels like a big step backwards.
His next stop is at The Renaissance Club for the Scottish Open, which he wasn’t initially planning on playing but added to his schedule at a late stage after his family couldn’t travel over with him, and it’s no surprise to hear him say it’s a good thing he did off the back of how he performed this week. It’s hard to disagree.
There he will link up with coach Pete Cowen and aim to iron out the issues that plagued him at Mount Juliet while also getting his first taste of competitive links golf in two years. It may be perfect timing, but the fear is it may come too late given The Open is the following week.
“There’s nothing better than preparing for a Major by getting into contention the week before. But I need to work pretty hard on my game the next few days before heading into the Scottish Open,” admitted McIlroy.
No doubt he will but whether there is enough time is another matter.