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DUBLIN, Ohio — A decade ago, Tiger Woods took the money, the Nike clubs and balls, and ran as far away from Titleist as fast as he could. Not long after, Phil Mickelson, then still a loyal Titleist man, treated us to this comment regarding Woods:
“He hates it that I can fly it past him. He has a faster swing speed than I do, but he has inferior equipment. Tiger is the only player who is good enough to overcome the equipment he’s stuck with.”
This past January, Rory McIlroy took the money, the Nike clubs and balls, and ran as far away from Titleist as fast as he could.
McIlroy won the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA. The latter was one of three wins in a four-tournament stretch late last season. You can add to that his contributions to Europe’s rally for the Ryder Cup.
Then he got a multiyear contract from Nike estimated as being worth anywhere from $200 million to $250 million.
He hasn’t won since and on Thursday stumbled through the worst opening round of his 63-event PGA Tour career, a 6-over-par 78 in the Memorial Tournament.
This would be the perfect spot for a Mickelson quote, but Phil isn’t competing at Muirfield Village this week. Drat.
Anyway, there is probably nothing wrong with McIlroy’s equipment. Tiger didn’t take too long to figure it out. But in Rory’s case it can’t possibly be dialed in properly. What other explanation can there be when such a solid player struggles so mightily?
He was terrifically upbeat about playing here during a conversation Wednesday. His game was coming around, he said, and he called Muirfield Village a course “I feel I can do well on,” despite missing the cut here a year ago.
Frankly, the young Irishman is a mess. The misses with his driver are big misses, even wedge shots are drifting right, and he had a four-putt from 48 feet on No. 12 — the first one stopped 16 feet shy of the cup — and a three-putt at the seventh hole when his first stroke came up 12 feet short. He hit just seven fairways, missed as many greens, and scuffed it around from tee to green.
“The game just isn’t all there at the minute,” McIlroy said. “Coming off the back [end] of last year, I was playing very well, winning a few times. And I won a major championship. Of course you want to come into this year and try to do the same sort of things. It just hasn’t really happened.”
There are issues beyond getting the feel for new clubs. There is the pressure of producing with them in light of Nike’s huge commitment, there is his split with an agent to form his own management firm, and there is the weight of his own expectations.
“No,” he said when asked if it all intrudes inside the ropes. “Once I’m here, I’m focused on what I need to do. I don’t really have many explanations for this.
“I’m pretty frustrated. I’m trying not to let it get to me. A few bad rounds of golf [aren’t] going to ruin anything. But I’d definitely like to start playing.”
His big issue today is starting play 13 shots behind leader Charl Schwartzel.
“I need to shoot something like 66 or 65 probably to make the weekend,” McIlroy said.
Not impossible, but certainly improbable.
Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.