By The Numbers: Improved ballstriking key for McIlroy at Carnoustie

SOUTHAMPTON, NY - JUNE 15: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts on the 18th green during the second round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on June 15, 2018 in Southampton, New York. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

By The Numbers: Improved ballstriking key for McIlroy at Carnoustie

By The Numbers

By The Numbers: Improved ballstriking key for McIlroy at Carnoustie

The world at large was introduced to Rory McIlroy, a bushy-haired 18-year-old amateur from Northern Ireland, at the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie. He had earned his spot in the field by winning the European Amateur Championship a year before, and an opening-round 68 proved he belonged on the same stage as the pros.

McIlroy tied for 42nd that week in Scotland, and since has won the 2011 U.S. Open, the 2012 PGA Championship, and the 2014 British Open and PGA Championships. Despite several injuries and setbacks at other majors, he has been considered a premium ballstriker for most of the past decade.

But some of his advantage has slipped away this year.

McIlroy returns to Carnoustie next week for the British Open, and his 2018 season has been inconsistent. He has missed four PGA Tour cuts, including at the U.S. Open, but he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational after shooting 64 on Sunday. McIlroy was in the final group Sunday at the Masters, where he finished tied for fifth, and had chances to win several European Tour events.
McIlroy, who started to play a full-time PGA Tour schedule in 2010, recently said statistics play a massive role in how he practices, in which events he plays and what shots he hits on the course.

He obtains information on his performance from a statistician at TaylorMade, James Cornish, and also receives course reports and information from The 15th Club, a London-based golf analytics service.

“I think (stats) have become very important, and I think the strokes gained stats, whether it’s tee-to-green or putting or around-the-green or whatever, I think that’s been one of the biggest changes for good that we’ve seen in golf because it really just lets you see how your game stacks up against everyone else,” McIlroy said.

Golfweek/David Dusek

Going inside the numbers reveals several interesting points.

For years he consistently has been one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, but his driving advantage over the field has dwindled over the past few years. In 2014, when Rory won two majors, he had his highest strokes gained off-the-tee average for a season, 1.367. That earned him more than a five-shot edge on the average player over 72 holes. Today his strokes gained off-the-tee average is 0.479, still respectable and ranked 27th on Tour but 65 percent lower than in 2014.

McIlroy also has dropped in strokes gained approach-the-green in that same period. In 2014 his average was 0.602, but through the U.S. Open it was down about 45 percent to 0.332.

Then there’s his putting. At first glance, Rory’s strokes gained putting of 0.219 appears to be better than his typical season, but that figure is inflated due to a fantastic performance at Bay Hill. That week, en route to winning, McIlroy had a strokes gained putting total of 10.026, which was more than two shots higher than his strokes gained tee-to-green advantage that week (7.948). It was the only time in McIlroy’s PGA Tour career that he won with a strokes gained putting that was higher than his strokes gained tee-to-green.
If McIlroy had skipped Bay Hill, his season-long strokes gained putting average would be -0.179, which would have ranked 134th on the PGA Tour after the U.S. Open.

A strong case could be made that McIlroy is putting about the same as he usually does, but that blistering week at Bay Hill skewed his average by almost four-tenths of a shot.

The bottom line is McIlroy is not driving the ball as effectively against the field as he did in previous years, and his iron play has dipped, too. If he is going to contend at Carnoustie, those are the areas of his game that need improvement.

Good putting is a bonus, but superior ballstriking is a must. Gwk

(Note: This story appeared in the July 2018 issue of Golfweek).

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