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Rory McIlroy has called last week’s US PGA Championship “the one that got away” but insists he is remaining positive despite storming away from Southern Hills and refusing to talk to the media for two straight days.
McIlroy was labelled “immature” by influential American magazine Golf Digest for declining to discuss his eighth-place finish in Tulsa, but three days later the 33-year-old was finally obliged to open up about his performance, albeit in a conference call to promote an app that sponsors him.
“I definitely feel like it was one that got away,” he said. “I regret the big numbers I made on the par threes on Saturday. The fact is that I just needed to play the last 13 holes in one-under par to make a play-off on Sunday, and I didn’t. But, again, I have to take the positives – and the fact that eighth place in a major is absolutely the worst I feel I could’ve finished last week.”
McIlroy finished runner-up at last month’s Masters and pointed out that with two top 10s in the 2022 majors so far he is closer than ever to ending his eight-year barren run back to the most recent of his four majors.
“It’s a completely different story to where I was the last couple of years,” McIlroy said. “The first two majors of last year, I missed the cut at Augusta and I finished like 50th at the PGA. I just have to stay as patient as possible. I know that if I keep playing the golf that I’m playing the chances are going to present themselves and I’m going to give myself a few more chances this year, not just to win majors but to win golf tournaments in general.”
As McIlroy struggled after his opening 65, Brandel Chamblee, the former PGA Tour winner turned arch Golf Channel critic, spoke for many in wondering: “What is it that turns Rory from the best player you have seen to a mediocre player?”.
And on social media the accusation that he can no longer inevitably put four good rounds together in the events that truly matter came thick and fast, with varying levels of vitriol. In the midst of this latest assault on McIlroy’s ability to reach major No 5, countryman Shane Lowry rounded on the sceptics.
"The armchair golfers don't realise how hard it is out here - it's not as easy as shooting 65 in the first round," the 2019 Open champion said.
“I saw a quote from him from last week on how he hasn't won a major since 2014 but he has pretty much done everything else you have to do in the world of golf. So it's not like he's in a slump. It's almost like you're a victim of your own success.
“People expected him to win 10 majors when he won those four and it just hasn't worked out like that. But he's only 33 now and he's still got a long way to go in his career."
McIlroy is taking this week off, before a run of four consecutive events that takes in next month’s US Open. He will then skip his home tournament, the Irish Open, and the Scottish Open as he prepares for the 150th Open Championship at Andrews.
No doubt he will be working with sports psychologist Dr Bob Rotella in this period.
“He sent me a nice text on Sunday night,” McIlroy said, in the session to publicise the new GolfNow Compete App.
“There’s a lot to be positive about where my golf game is now compared to where it was last year, it’s miles ahead of that. I feel like the consistency is back in my golf game that really hasn’t been there.
“I feel like this year is very similar to 2019, when I had one of my best years ever and won four times, and I was PGA Tour Player of the Year.”