COMMENTARY | Things could be worse for Rory McIlroy.
In fact, coming into this week's tournament -- the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational -- a year ago, things arguably were worse. Believe it or not, the former world No. 1 was still using Titleist golf clubs and still dating Caroline Wozniacki and still was having trouble making cuts.
After beginning last season scorching hot, top-fiving in six of his first seven starts, McIlroy began one of those downward trends that have come to define his roller-coaster career. Despite winning the Honda Classic early in the year, McIlroy's record in the first three majors was unimpressive: T40 at the Masters, cut at the US Open and T60 at the Open Championship.
Coming into Akron, McIlroy had missed the cut in four of his previous seven tournaments. We all know what happened next, however. McIlroy found something after coming back Stateside from the Open; he built on that with a good week at Firestone and then went on to lap the field at the PGA Championship the following week on Kiawah Island.
McIlroy, who has been facing criticism on a weekly basis this season, seems to be in a similar position following his MC at the 2013 edition of the Open as he was 12 months ago. And each time he takes to the podium, like he did on Wednesday in Akron, he talks as if a breakthrough is imminent, although recent results would point to the contrary.
"I was sitting up here this time last year probably not feeling as if my game was in great shape and I'm sitting up here this year a lot more positive, so that's a great sign," McIlroy said. "I feel like if something similar could happen like it did last year -- get a good finish here or get into contention -- that would set me up for the last major of the season.
"I feel like my game is in better shape now than it was last year. I was really searching last year for answers."
McIlroy found those answers in the form of tie for fifth place after rounds of 70-67-67-68 on Firestone Country Club's South Course. According the to 24-year-old, the key was getting out of his own way, going out and simply playing golf, not getting overly concerned about his technique.
McIlroy headed back to his native Northern Ireland following the Open and played a bit of golf with his childhood friends at the courses he grew up on. Then, like last year, McIlroy got to Ohio on Monday of tournament week to practice at one of his favorite practice facilities on Tour. A few notes from his swing instructor Michael Bannon and a session or two with putting guru Dave Stockton, and McIlroy is once again feeling confident about where his game is.
This isn't to say that McIlroy is guaranteed a spot in contention this weekend or will be the man raising the Wanamaker Trophy next week at Oak Hill, but this isn't to say that it's that far of a stretch to think he might.
The acclimation necessary for an entire new bag of equipment has been overstated, but it shouldn't be dismissed entirely. Six months of tinkering with his new Nike equipment specs and finding out what works best for him is fair enough.
McIlroy said the irons were good to go from the start of the year, but his biggest weapon -- the driver -- was missing. McIlroy claimed to have found "the one" prior to the Open Championship and now will have an opportunity to put it to use repeatedly at Firestone.
Although the PGA Championship has dropped its moniker, "Glory's Last Shot," it will be Rory's last shot for a major in 2013.
If history is any indicator, McIlroy will have to make a run at the WGC this week to get him swinging confidently heading into the last major of the year.
Crazier things have happened than McIlroy turning a season around in the matter of a week; all you need to do is turn the calendar back to this time last year.
Chris Chaney is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based sportswriter. He has written for multiple outlets including WrongFairway.com, Hoopville.com, The Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer and The Clermont (OH) Sun.
Follow him on Twitter @Wrong_Fairway.
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