On Friday, Rory McIlroy, world No. 1, withdrew from the Honda Classic after posting a +7 on his first eight holes of the day. He cited pain from wisdom teeth, but concern about McIlroy wasn't confined to his dental work. With exactly four complete rounds so far in 2013 (a missed cut in Abu Dhabi, a first-round flameout in the WGC-Accenture Match Play and an unremarkable first round on Thursday), he's looked about as fearsome on the course as a kid with a new set of plastic clubs.
And, yes, new clubs — not plastic, but made by Nike — are taking their share of the heat. During the offseason, McIlroy signed with Nike, and the fact that he hasn't exactly lit up the sky since then has many wondering whether the swoosh might be the problem. McIlroy didn't quell any concerns when he switched from his Nike putter to a Scotty Cameron model after just one round in Abu Dhabi.
So is the McMojo gone? Is McIlroy ready to give back all the gains he made during his impressive 2012? Will Tiger Woods regain his rightful throne atop the golf world?
In order: No; no; and possibly, but that's a different topic.
Look, first off we have to recalibrate our definition of what a "great" golfer is. A great golfer these days will win three tournaments in a season. The days of Woods winning eight, nine tournaments in a year? Gone, baby, gone. The level of talent now is broader than at any time in the game's history, and no player, not even McIlroy, is a favorite in the "Tiger-versus-the-field" days of yore. So it's not unexpected that any player will have winless runs.
Now, granted, winless runs are one thing; looking like you're not sure which end of the club to swing is another. Here's the secret about McIlroy, though: He's insanely streaky. He started 2012, for instance, placing in the top three in four of five tournaments. He then strung together five tournaments, including two majors, in which he missed the cut in three and placed 60th in the fourth. And then he closed off the year finishing 5-1-24-1-1-10, including a thoroughly dominating win at the PGA Championship. So it's entirely possible that by the time the azaleas bloom at Augusta in a few weeks, this initial stumble will be nothing but an ugly, faint memory.
Plus, let's kill the whole "it's the equipment's fault" meme dead. As our own Shane Bacon put it just a few days ago, "Every equipment company in the world these days is churning out solid stuff that you could put in the hands of any professional golfer and see immediate positive results. A Nike driver is going to have incredible technology, just like a TaylorMade will and a Ping and a Cleveland. The dirty little secret in golf business right now is that it's all really ... good."
McIlroy is going to be fine. He's got talent, drive, game smarts and a track record of success. We'll just have to accept that his career is less raging locomotive and more roller coaster.
-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-
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