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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Time on course is all Rory McIlroy needs to find his best form

The Northern Irishman's results have dipped of late, but a good performance at the Scottish Open this week should set himself up nicely for a tilt at the British Open next week.

Rory McIlroy's form has been disappointing in the run up to the British Open, including missing the cut at the US Open last month. Michael Madrid / USA Today Sports
Rory McIlroy's form has been disappointing in the run up to the British Open, including missing the cut at the US Open last month. Michael Madrid / USA Today Sports

Should we be concerned about Rory McIlroy?

After all, the Northern Irishman missed the cut at the Irish Open last week, a tournament he hosts – which, granted, could have played its part - and a tournament at which he was defending champion.

He opened with an even-par 72 on Thursday and followed with a 73 on Friday, making it four missed cuts from his past five appearances at the event.

More recently, McIlroy’s record reads two missed cuts from three competitive outings, including last month’s US Open. In between, he was tied-17th at the Travellers Championship.

As it stands, McIlroy is without a victory since last September’s Tour Championship, a mini drought for a player with a mighty talent. Subsequently, someone who typically jostles for top spot in the world rankings has slipped these past few weeks from No 2 to No 3 to No 4.

So this week’s Scottish Open has added significance, not only in helping to turn around results, but in where it sits on the calendar, too.

Acting as a prelude to the Open Championship, it is an important tune-up before McIlroy takes aim at landing a fifth major crown. It is almost three years since his fourth.

“Having had such a stop-start season with the injury means I need to, and really want to, play golf,” McIlroy said when adding the Scottish Open to his programme last month.

And that is just it: McIlroy needs to play golf. Thus far, his 2017 schedule has featured 30 competitive rounds, meaning one of the game’s leading lights remains seriously uncooked.

A rib injury hampered his early season – his missed both Abu Dhabi and Dubai – and prompted five weeks off after the Masters, while he has had to contend with a change in equipment and his wedding. Those are legitimate distractions.

At the Irish Open, McIlroy bemoaned his problems in and around the greens; at the Travellers two weeks previously, he used three different putters.

“It's been a really frustrating year," he said in Portstewart. "Not what I wanted at all, but I must remain patient, go back to the drawing board."

Admittedly, problems with the putter need addressed, and McIlroy has not looked entirely comfortable over the ball. Predictably, he has been working hard on rectifying that. Yet he must be careful that it does not knock his confidence, that the doubt does not seep into other areas of his game.

“I don't feel I'm that far away - I really don't,” he said. “I can hit a five-iron from 220 yards into the middle of the green, but I can't get it up-and-down from 30 feet.”

Dundonald Links, a stoutly unforgiving Kyle Phillips design, will certainly test that. So too, a field that includes Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott and Alex Noren, the defending champion.

McIlroy could therefore do with a quick start. Of his past six competitive appearances, he has broken par in the first round only once, at the Travellers Championship. Clearly, he is still feeling his way into tournaments, a relic from the time off nursing the rib injury.

So is there any real cause for concern? Well, not really. Yes, the short-game requires refining, but McIlroy is simply an athlete short on competitive game-time.

In 2014, victory proved initially elusive. Then he won four times in less than three months that summer – all of them prominent tournaments. Statistically, his long game is better now than it was then.

Unquestionably, he needs to gets out of the blocks well in Scotland this week. But, crucially, getting four rounds under the belt is a must. Shed that competitive rust, roll on Royal Birkdale. Just like three years ago, a frustrating season can soon spark.