ORLANDO – Rory McIlroy talks a good game.
Always has, always will. He is approachable, insightful, genuine, honest, sometimes to his detriment. There is no lying in the Northern Irishman. He says what he means, and he means what he says, and no one gets the sense that when he takes a question and spins it into press-conference gold, the answers were washed through a PR machine.
Come on, the guy referenced Abraham Lincoln in his Wednesday presser at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
But it’s becoming increasingly harder to take McIlroy at his word as the four-time major champion who is but one green jacket short of becoming the sixth player to win the career grand slam can’t extinguish a victory drought of 12 months and has just one win since he captured the 2016 Tour Championship almost 30 months ago.
One struggles to believe that McIlroy, who has 23 wins worldwide, is not exasperated or on edge as the absence of victory grows longer, especially when he’s put himself in position to win repeatedly.
But McIlroy didn’t lose it as his winless stretch continued at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The defending champion started the final round one shot out of the lead and could only match par and fell into a tie for sixth, four shots behind champion Francesco Molinari.
It was another Sunday letdown as McIlroy was the only player among the top 14 who didn’t break par in the final round. As Molinari, the Champion Golfer of the Year, romped to victory with a closing 8-under-par 64, McIlroy made just one birdie on the four par-5s, missed a 5-footer for a birdie and spent the rest of the day trying to rack up red numbers from long distances.
One expected McIlroy to see red and start snapping his irons over his knees, throwing his golf bag into a water hazard, kicking over a tee marker. But after signing his card, he once again did not look too torn up about it.
While there was slight disappointment in his face and displeasure in his gait, there was no desperation evident. He won’t be firing his caddie, letting go of his swing coach or hiring a sports psychologist.
“I’m playing well, I’m getting myself into contention every week,” McIlroy said. “That’s the great thing about golf, you don’t have to wait too long to get back on the horse.”
The horse will be in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., this week, where McIlroy will take on the best players in the world and one menacing golf course in The Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. His track record there isn’t inspiring – in nine starts he’s missed four cuts and hasn’t had a top-10 since 2015.
But he’s played well most everywhere he’s gone for two years now and has but one victory. Thus, the man has had the patience of Job.
He’s been preaching that patience is soothing his soul and is the crucial club in his golf bag as he strives to terminate the winless streak. As the months have gone by without him clutching championship hardware, he claims there are no demons assaulting his mind, no reasons to panic, no intentions to change his ways.
He’s often said that all he can do is keep putting himself in position to win, and he’s done plenty of that yet remains winless since capturing last year’s tournament in Arnie’s Kingdom when he birdied five of his last six holes to win by three.
In five starts this year, the world’s No. 6 has finished fourth, fifth, fourth, second and sixth. He has 12 top-10s in his last 23 worldwide starts.
But he’s now 0-for-9 since the start of the 2018 season when he’s started the final round in the final group. He hasn’t been vanquished by chopped liver, with the likes of Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Justin Thomas getting the better of McIlroy in the final group.
“I’m playing well. I would much rather be putting myself in position to have a chance to win,” McIlroy said. “My Sundays haven’t been what I would have liked, but I’m putting myself in that position, so good golf is good golf.
“I keep saying that at the end of the day.” Gwk