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Why statistics give reason for optimism that Rory McIlroy is closing in on a win


So close: Rory McIlroy just missed out in Mexico to Dustin Johnson
So close: Rory McIlroy just missed out in Mexico to Dustin Johnson
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

Make that four consecutive top-five finishes to start 2019 for Rory McIlroy and another step in the right direction.

Now up to sixth in the world, and quickly hunting down Bryson DeChambeau in fifth, McIlroy continued his fine early form at the first World Golf Championship of the season in Mexico.

But once again he has not finished in the winner's circle, although this time it was down to the sensational form of Dustin Johnson, not his own doing, that saw him come second.

Take, for example, his final nine holes. The Ulsterman was five-under par for his final back nine of the week, and that even included a bogey at the last that, had he taken more time over his putt, he would have more than likely holed.

Six birdies from the 11th to the 17th that was highlighted by some simply sublime approach play from McIlroy, it was Championship-winning form and it deserved so much more.

The problem was his score for those final nine holes was matched by only one other person on the course, and it just so happened to be the man he was chasing down: Johnson.

The most ardent of McIlroy fans may bemoan the drop Johnson received on the fifth when he had to take his stance on a cart path with his ball behind a tree - which allowed him to save par and his momentum - and the lack of mercy afforded to McIlroy when he found himself in a similar spot one hole later, but this was Johnson's tournament.

The now World No.2 won his second event of the calendar year in some style, carding five birdies on his way in to allow a stroll down the 18th more akin to a victory parade than a man closing out a WGC title.

"I felt like I was standing still, making all those birdies and going nowhere," laughed McIlroy post-round.

Perhaps this will be the most heartbreaking near miss for McIlroy in 2019 so far. In other weeks it has been his own play that has held him back from getting closer to winning titles, at the weekend he did everything he could to triumph and Johnson kept matching him at every turn.

But, once again, things are still progressing in the right way. He's now 56-under par combined in his last four events and led the field in Mexico in strokes gained: tee-to-green.

Even his putting improved, although it is still the weakness of his game, finishing 16th in strokes gained with the flat iron at Golf Club de Chapultepec.

In Thursday's opening round he was utterly sublime, and a better follow-up round on Friday would have had him better positioned for a charge at Johnson on the Sunday.

It's also clear where the fixes are for the four-time Major winner rather than those worrying weeks where it seemed every time he fixed a flaw, another would pop up. Now, all he needs to do is iron out little details.

"For sure, it is going to happen," McIlroy said of winning again soon. "I keep putting myself in this position. I'm playing some of the most consistent golf of my career.

"I've never had four top-fives in a row on the PGA Tour. I'm right there, where I need to be."

Next up for McIlroy will be the defence of his Arnold Palmer Invitational title in a couple of weeks' time.

He says he's right where he needs to be. Bay Hill could be the perfect place for McIlroy to finally put it all together.

Belfast Telegraph

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