PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – A loud roar arose as Rory McIlroy stood on TPC Sawgrass’ ninth tee. The cheering wasn’t for him, though. It was in response to Brian Harman’s chip-in at the previous green.
McIlroy didn’t give the fans much to celebrate this week, though that’s not uncommon here. He’ll be leaving this afternoon after shooting 76 Friday for a 4-over 148 total. It’s his third missed cut in three appearances at the Players Championship.
“I just need to get the hang of this golf course,” McIlroy said.
Somewhere Pete Dye is smiling. TPC Sawgrass isn’t the longest, or toughest, track the PGA Tour visits. The course can wreak havoc on those who can’t overcome its visual trickery, though.
McIlroy has been honest about his lack of comfort here, especially with the tee shots. He put a 2-iron into his bag this week to help with several of those shots, but even that switch couldn’t solve his Sawgrass struggles.
“Off the tee I find it pretty difficult around here,” he said. “You have really got to position your ball in the fairway to give yourself at least a chance to get to some of these pins. I just didn’t do that over the last couple days.”
He hit just 57 percent of his fairways and 56 percent of his greens this week and made just five birdies, only one of which came Friday.
This is McIlroy’s first missed cut in more than a year. Last year’s Wells Fargo Championship was the last time he failed to play the weekend. He finished second at that event last week, losing a playoff to Rickie Fowler, but couldn’t carry the momentum from Charlotte to north Florida.
“I shoot 14 under last week, and I feel like I hit it just the same this week, and I’m going home,” said McIlroy, the world’s No. 1 player. “I’m not getting down on myself about it.”
He’s never broken par in six rounds at TPC Sawgrass. He’s 12 over par, averaging 74 shots per round.
Last week’s Wells Fargo Championship ended a three-week, post-Masters layoff for McIlroy. He spent part of the time working with his swing coach, Michael Bannon, in south Florida to fix his driving. He said his tee shots were the reason behind his struggles at Augusta National, where he was one shot off the lead after two rounds before shooting 153 on the weekend.
McIlroy had finished in the top-3 in all but one of his five previous PGA Tour starts this year. He won the Honda Classic, was runner-up at the Match Play and Wells Fargo and third at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. The Masters, where he finished 40th, was his lone exception.
McIlroy is headed back to Europe, where he’ll have a week off before playing the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship.
“I’ll come back next year and give it my best and try to make it to the weekend,” he said.