Just what the rest of the world needs, a revved up Rory McIlroy minded to right the wrongs of a rotten week. After a run of three wins and four seconds in his previous seven events McIlroy was more embarrassed than disappointed to miss the cut at the Honda Classic on his maiden outing of 2015 on the PGA Tour.
At least he could walk home from the PGA National and, after celebrating his mother’s birthday on Friday night, was spared the weather chaos of Saturday that ultimately forced a Monday finish. McIlroy began the repairs with a winning 63 in the annual post-Honda Pro-Member event at Seminole before heading south to Doral to contest the first world golf championship of the season, the WGC-Cadillac, which begins today.
“It’s nice to have my name up on the board. To walk into that locker room and have your name up there on that Pro-Member board, it’s a pretty cool board to look at. You have all the greats of the game basically up there.
“And from last week I took a little bit from it in terms of where I made mistakes and what I needed to do differently. My second shot on six in the second round, which would have been my 15th hole, that sort of summed up my [game]. It’s just a nice held draw into that wind to the middle of the green. I hit a shot that isn’t really like me. So I knew there was something not quite right, just went and worked on what I needed to do coming into this week.”
As important a tournament as this is, its proximity to the first major of the year a month hence means it cannot really escape the gravitational pull of the Masters. The conversation quickly turns from all things Trump to Augusta National. Inevitably McIlroy is at the centre of the narrative, the Masters being the only major to elude him in his short career. At the tender age of 25, he’s already an old hand managing the hype and, as he says, he would rather he be the centre of attention than not.
“After my previous couple of performances in the majors, I can see why it has got like this,” he said. “I mean, I’m going for three majors in a row, going for my first Masters. If I win Augusta I have the chance to hold all four at one point. There’s a lot of storyline. I know it can be talked about but I’m trying not to think about it too much, just go in there and prepare as best as I can. If I can do that, then hopefully all those shots at the end of the week add up to a score that’s lower than everyone else’s.”
Though that is essentially the story, the tournament is not experienced as an abstraction. He added: “I’d rather have the questions, because it’s obviously a great position to be in going into Augusta and having it be the only major that I haven’t won.”
McIlroy has scheduled an initial look at the course next week, taking his father for a knock. He will then compete at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in a fortnight before continuing his preparation at home.
Last week’s anomaly was a marvellous demonstration of golf’s capacity for keeping even the best honest, and might just be a factor in focusing McIlroy’s mind as the heat comes into the season. “Sometimes you need a little kick in the backside to make you realise what you need to do. I was disappointed, but it’s given me clarity going into the next few weeks. I don’t feel you learn that much with your wins or success.
“You learn about yourself and you learn that you can handle the pressure or you can do certain things under pressure that you mightn’t have done before. But definitely during your losses is where you learn the most. I’ve always said that the last round at Augusta in 2011 was a huge learning curve for me. I took a lot from that day.”
Ian Poulter shares the sentiment. Poulter failed to convert a winning position at the end of the third round into victory at the Honda Classic, a treble-bogey seven at the 14th while in a share of the lead, cost him his maiden PGA Tour victory in a strokeplay event.
“It’s done. I can’t beat myself up over a few bad shots in a week in which I played so well,” Poulter said. “I’m healthy, injury free and playing great golf. I led the field in greens in regulation and proximity to the hole so I have to be positive. I have another chance this week on a tough golf course, so it’s all good.”
Poulter’s mood was further lifted by the confirmation of the return of the British Masters at his home course of Woburn in October. Poulter, Luke Donald, Justin Rose and Lee Westwood will take it in turns to “host” the event.
“It is fantastic news that the British Masters is back on the European Tour schedule,” Poulter said. “I am proud to be bringing the tournament to Woburn Golf Club, which is obviously a place that means a great deal to me. British golf has been in a good place for a number of years now with the success we have had internationally, and as players we have all been keen to get more tournaments on British soil, and in England in particular, so we are grateful to Sky Sports and the European Tour for helping to make this happen.”