Rory McIlroy says he’s made the turn in his career: ‘Maybe on the 10th green or 11th tee’

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — The issues started Thursday on his first hole of the day.

Rory McIlroy said he had not been comfortable with an iron in his hand for a few weeks and it showed on his second shot. What should have been an easy approach into the green found the left side bunker.

McIlroy got up and down for the birdie on No. 10, now a par 5, but he was fighting those irons all day.

Still, he shot a 67 on the first day of the 2024 Cognizant Classic in the Palm Beaches, calling it a solid start.

“Sixty-seven around here is always a decent score,” he said.

Better than decent, most days. But equaling his fifth lowest round ever at Cognizant wasn’t totally satisfying. McIlroy admitted his round “probably could have been a couple of shots better,” had he ironed out that iron play and had a few more putts drop. The conditions, at least early, were ripe for red numbers.

“It was so benign today,” he said. “You’re not going to get this course much easier.”

McIlroy was in the morning wave, which always is the preference on this challenging course that becomes even more daunting when afternoon winds blow. That will change Friday with an afternoon tee time.

That early tee time also afforded him plenty of time to visit the range after his round and work on those irons.

There, McIlroy found a spot where he visualized hitting to left pins. The issue, he said, has been those pins on the left side of the green. And after missing left a few times, he overcorrected and missed right.

2024 Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches
2024 Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

Fans line up to catch a glimpse of Rory McIlroy on the ninth hole during the first round of the 2024 Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches at PGA National Resort. (Photo: Jeff Romance/Palm Beach Post)

“It’s something that I’ve been struggling with for the last few weeks and it’s hard,” he said. “It’s hard to replicate on the range the visuals that you’re getting on the course and it’s more a visual thing.

“When I see a pin on the left side of the green, I’m just a bit more uneasy of what shot to play and how I’m trying to swing it.”

20 months inside the top 10

Uneasy is not a typical feeling for a golfer who has spent the last 20 months inside the top 10 in the world – currently No. 2 – and has 24 career PGA Tour titles, including four majors.

But McIlroy is two months shy of his 35th birthday, and although golf is a sport kind to the aging as long as they are healthy (see: Eldrick “Tiger” Woods), many who have been at the very top find it difficult to accept anything less.

McIlroy will be missed when he’s gone, at least for those of us who appreciate his candor and willingness to weigh-in on any controversy. He has become this generation’s voice of the player.

This week, McIlroy acknowledged he is on the back nine in his career. When asked for a sports analogy, McIlroy crunched the numbers.

“I turned pro in ’07. What is this, my 17th year? Another 17 I’ll be 51,” he said. “Yeah, I would say I’m pretty close to the turn at this point, if not a little bit after. Maybe on the 10th green or 11th tee.”

2024 Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches
2024 Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

Rory McIlroy plays a shot from a bunker on the 10th hole during the first round of the 2024 Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches. (Photo: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

But what about sustaining that hunger that has allowed him to stay fit and strong through a rigorous workout routine? Though not the biggest in stature, McIlroy is among the longest off the tee in the game. Thursday, he was in the top 5 in the field in driving distance and led everyone in Strokes Gained: Off the tee

“For the next 17, no,” he said when asked if he can sustain that drive. “I would say for the next 10, absolutely. Seventeen seams like a stretch.”

McIlroy has not won here since 2012

What is not a stretch is the chance of McIlroy on the leaderboard Sunday in this rebranded tournament, and establishing a Cognizant record for the most years between titles. That mark currently is held by Mark Calcavecchia, who won in 1987 and 1998.

McIlroy won this event in 2012, holding off a charging Woods that allowed him to reach No. 1 in world for the first time in his career.

That came during one of the more remarkable stretches of consistency in this sport’s history. McIlroy has not been out of the top 15 in the world since Nov. 2009.

“I remember Tiger making that charge on Sunday and then sort of having to hold on the last five holes,” said McIlroy, who beat Tiger and Tom Gillis by two shots. “I made two really good ups and downs on 15 and 17. And, yeah, it was a really cool moment.

“I can’t believe it’s 12 years ago, but here we are.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek