NORTON, Mass. – People go on vacations to get away from the stress of work, to visit places they’ve never seen or maybe enjoy an extra margarita or two with their dinner. After the PGA Championship, Rory McIlroy took two weeks off, which included skipping the first event of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, but he did not spend his time with his toes in the sand.
“I played well for three rounds at Firestone, but I didn’t play well when I needed to the fourth round when I was in the final group,” McIlroy said on Thursday. “And then I didn’t play very well at St. Louis, and that was all to do with swing mechanics and technique. I just needed to have a couple of weeks off and sort of assess where I was at and what I needed to do to improve and go forward.”
The four-time major winner worked with his swing coach, Michael Bannon, for 10 days, and the two even watched old videos of when McIlroy was 16 in an effort to resurrect his old swing.
McIlroy was in a good mood after signing his scorecard on Friday afternoon because he made a birdie on the 18th hole, a 538-yard par 5, that gave him an even-par 71. The day, however, was filled with the same issues that plagued McIlroy all season.
“It was hard today because there were a lot of crosswinds and it was a little variable,” McIlroy said. “Sometimes it was downwind, into the wind … when it gets like that it’s hard to trust it. I backed off a few shots.”
That included a tee shot on the 185-yard par-3 16th hole. After pulling a club and going through his entire pre-shot routine, McIlroy appeared to start his swing, but then he stood up, smiled and took a deep breath. His caddie, Harry Diamond, swooped in with McIlroy’s bag, but his boss didn’t make a change. He did, however, re-address the ball and hit his shot onto the green, 21 feet from the hole.
Walking back to his bag, he and Pat Perez exchanged whispers and glances into the trees.
McIlroy changed golf balls this week, switching from a TaylorMade TP5x to the TP5. The ball McIlroy used on Friday feels softer at impact because it has a lower compression, but it also flies lower and spins a little more. McIlroy said that he made the change because he wants to be able to flight his irons and wedges on a lower trajectory.
“Honestly, playing with (Justin Thomas) and Tiger at Bellerive, the way they hit their wedges and short irons, they flight it so low with a lot of spin, I felt the new ball would help me achieve more of that ball flight.”
McIlroy continued to drive effectively with the new ball, averaging 328.9 yards on the two measured holes, and statistically his approach game was good, but there were several times when he did not take advantage of his tee shots and create good scoring chances.
For example, on the sixth hole he had just 144 yards left to the flag after hitting a 331-yard drive into the fairway, but his approach shot stopped 36 feet from the hole. On the ninth, he drove the ball 331 yards again, but from 155 yards out he left himself a 25-foot putt for birdie. On 10, from 128 yards away in the fairway, his approach shot left him 35 feet from the cup.
“All this work over the last 10 days have been trying to help me sharpen up my iron game and my wedge game,” McIlroy said. “If I can do that and see progress there, then I’ll be happy.”
McIlroy’s even-par round on Friday is fine, and it left him just four shots off the lead after the morning wave was finished, but if he is going to win here, be a factor in the FedEx Cup playoffs and help Europe win back the Ryder Cup, McIlroy needs to tighten up his game.
If he doesn’t, his next extended period away from the tour may turn into another working vacation.