LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England –- A year ago, Rory McIlroy came to the Open Championship in full glow, having answered his Masters collapse with an emphatic eight-stroke victory at the U.S. Open. But he left England that week sounding more like a whiner than a winner.
After the wind got the better of him and blew his weekend scores up to 74 and 73 at Royal St. George’s, the Marx Brother lookalike moaned about Mother Nature.
“I’m not a fan of golf tournaments that the outcome is predicted so much by the weather,” he said then. “It’s not my sort of golf. … These conditions, I just don’t enjoy playing in really. That’s the bottom line. I’d rather play when it’s 80 degrees and sunny and not much wind.”
Suddenly he seemed like an immature 22-year-old instead of the runaway train that stormed through Congressional a month earlier. Such talk raised more eyebrows. It raised questions about his toughness. Champions don’t complain about weather; they conquer it.
With that episode as a backdrop, McIlroy entertained questions Tuesday at the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club. The topic of playing in bad weather was broached because of his said dislike and because it stormed here today, with more pouring rain expected Wednesday and some precipitation forecast for Thursday and possibly Sunday.
In so many words, McIroy admitted the error of his ways.
“Those comments were just pure frustration,” he said. “I mean, having really high expectations going into it, coming off a major win, really wanting to play well and not doing that. And blaming the weather, blaming the draw, blaming my luck, basically. That was just frustration.
“Looking back at it a year later, I just didn’t play well enough to get into contention and didn’t handle the conditions as best as I could have.”
The good news for McIlroy is that he is coming off a good performance, a tie for 10th place, in difficult conditions at the recent Irish Open at Portrush, Northern Ireland. To hear him, he is learning to embrace foul weather.
“That’s something I’m trying to do more of and felt like I did that,” he said. “To some degree at Portrush, I felt like I played well in bad conditions. And if it’s like again this week, you’re just going to have to knuckle down and focus and keep fighting and stay tough and try to shoot a score in bad conditions.”
Knuckle down. Fight. Stay tough. That’s more the talk of a hardened achiever. Whether he walks the walk this week is another matter.
After a strong start to the season – which included wrapping a second and a third around his Honda Classic victory in a three-week stretch – McIlroy lapsed into an uncharacteristic slump. He missed cuts at the Players, BMW PGA Championship in Europe, Memorial and the U.S. Open. Each of those weeks, he shot a score of 76 or worse.
Tuesday, he shrugged off that bad patch.
“I don’t think my game has completely (gone) off,” he said. “Everyone has bad spells, and I had a couple of bad weeks where I didn’t play so well. It’s just a little blip in the radar.”
To hear him, that was then and this is now.
“I feel like I’m swinging well again,” the world’s No. 2-ranked golfer said. “I feel like this will be a great week to play well. … I feel like I’m hitting the ball great. I think it’s the best I’ve swung the club all year.”
If so, that’s saying a lot, considering his spurt in February-March. Whether or not his game and the weather suit him this week remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure: Interestingly, he prefers the relative quiet of this week over the fuss of a year ago, even though that fanfare was a sign of major success.
“It’s been nice to sort of prepare and definitely not the madness that was going on last year,” he said. “It’s nice. I’ve tried to keep it as low-key as possible and just go out and go about my business.
“Obviously people still come up and want photos and stuff. But the commotion is definitely not as bad as it was this time last year.”