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Missing out at Bay Hill last night continues a worrying trend for Rory McIlroy

In the last 14 months, the Irishman has played in the final group in nine separate competitions…and failed to win any of them.

Rory McIlroy at last night's Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
Rory McIlroy at last night's Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
Image: Phelan M. Ebenhack

AS THE MASTERS hovers into view, we find ourselves once again asking: what’s up with Rory? 

Given he has finished in the top six of each of his five tournaments this year, it might be a bit pedantic to be asking the question again, but yesterday’s sixth-placed finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill continued an unwanted trend: it is the ninth tournament in the last 14 months which McIlroy has failed to win from the final group. 

In fact, his last tournament win – at Bay Hill last year – came from the penultimate pairing. The last time McIlroy won a tournament from the final pairing was the Irish Open at the K Club, in 2016. 

This run stretches back to January of last year, where he finished second at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, a shot behind Haotong Li having started the final day in the same position. 

Its most galling installment came at Augusta in April. He was well-placed going into the final round of the Masters, trailing leader Patrick Reed by three shots. His old Ryder Cup sparring partner then wobbled with a bogey at the first, which cut the gap to two. Then, on the second hole, McIlroy had a five-foot eagle putt to tie for the lead. 

He contrived to miss it and then putt for birdie – either side of a discernible slump of his shoulders. McIlroy then bogeyed the next hole…and finished in a tie for fifth place. His 74 was the highest among the top ten, and although Reed’s 71 was the next-highest among that cohort, he took the green jacket and finished six shots clear of his playing partner. 

UPI 20180408 McIlroy reacts glumly to a putt on the tenth green at Augusta last year. Source: UPI/PA Images

“If he makes the putt on two, we’re tied and it’s a brand new ballgame”, Reed recalled after the event. “But he missed, and I still had the lead and that gave me a chance to take a deep breath.”

Then to the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth a month later. Having started day four in the final group, tied for the lead with Francesco Molinari, the Italian shot a 68 while Rory finished on 70. 

Next up was the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, at which he joined Justin Thomas in the final round. Rory began the day three shots behind; what ensued was a near-repeat of Augusta. McIlroy shot a 73, and finished in a tie for sixth place and seven shots from top spot. 

At the BMW Championship in September, rain disruption meant the final round went ahead on a Monday, with pairings increased to trios. Rory was out with Xander Schauffle and Justin Rose, his final round 68 not enough to hoist him into the playoff contested by Rose and Keegan Bradley. 

Later that month Rory got lost amid the Woods clamour at the Tour Championship. Having been paired with Woods in the final round, he quietly shot a pretty wretched 74 to end up in a tie for seventh; his was the highest final-round score of any of the players who finished in the top 28. 

This year has continued in similar form. At the Sentry Tour of Champions in January, McIlroy started the final round as Gary Woodland’s closes challenger, albeit three shots behind. 

Again, he failed to shoot in the 60s: his final-round 72 meaning he finished in a tie for fourth. That he didn’t win is mitigated by Xander Schauffle’s fairly ludicrous 62. 

Then, six weeks later, he went into the closing day of the WGC Championship in Mexico four shots from Dustin Johnson. Although he finished off with an admirable 67, his partner went one better with a 66 and won the tournament. 

This trend hasn’t been permitted to evade McIlroy’s attention, and he has been asked about it on a couple of occasions. 

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Ahead of the final round at the Sentry tour of Champions, McIlroy said he had learned from the 2018 streak, saying that he had lacked patience. 

“I just forced the issue a little bit too much. A lot can happen in 18 holes”, said McIlroy. 

“My best round of the year was Bay Hill and I always go back to that and I should have learned from that. I wasn’t in the final group but I was two behind Henrik [Stenson] going into the final day and I was even par after six or five holes and I could have been 3- or 4-under.

“But I just stayed really patient and just tried to play golf and let it happen and that patience was rewarded that day. So that’s the sort of mindset I need to try to get back into.” 

Since making those comments, it’s happened another three times. He was calm last night, stressing how he has been “playing good golf, it doesn’t matter if I’m playing that golf on Thursday, Friday, Saturday.

“My Sundays haven’t been what I would have liked, but I’m putting myself in that position, so good golf is good golf.” 

Bay Hill Golf Francesco Molinari is awarded the tournament sweater at last night's Arnold Palmer invitational. Source: Phelan M. Ebenhack

Last night’s winner, Molinari, is in his career’s golden period In the last ten months he has won three tournaments – one of them the Claret Jug – along with playing a critical role in Europe’s Ryder Cup win. 

This streak began with the Wentworth win as McIlroy’s playing partner last May, after which Molinari spoke about the experience of closing out a tournament alongside the Irishman. 

“I’m old enough now that I’ve played in probably tougher circumstances even than today, playing against Tiger in the Ryder Cup and stuff like that.

“Rory is a great guy. I didn’t feel intimidated at all.” 

If McIlroy is to break this streak, there may be a message in there. 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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