Rory McIlroy searching for old form at Wells Fargo ChampionshipHas dropped to lowest world ranking (15) in the last decade-plus
May 05, 2021
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Rory McIlroy on playing pro-am with First Tee participant at Wells Fargo
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Rory McIlroy is still a fan favorite, and often THE fan favorite.
He joined Raymond Jin, a First Tee participant and Wells Fargo Succeeding Together essay contest winner who chose him over everyone else in the field, at the Wells Fargo Championship pro-am on Wednesday. And they played well, with McIlroy carding four birdies over nine holes.
As for official results, though, McIlroy has been searching.
“Yeah, I made a couple birdies, played OK,” he said Wednesday. “They don't really count in pro‑ams. I feel better about my game than I did flying home from Augusta on Friday night, put it that way.”
McIlroy, who turned 32 on Tuesday, has missed two cuts – at the Masters Tournament and THE PLAYERS Championship – in his last three starts. He is 15th in the Official World Golf Ranking, the lowest he’s been since late 2009, and 51st in the FedExCup – hardly up to the standards of a player who won the FedExCup in 2016 and ’19. It all begs the question: What happened to the Old Rory?
That’s not just some trivial fan-boy concern; McIlroy himself has been openly wrestling with the question. He admittedly lost his swing while chasing Bryson DeChambeau-like speed and distance, and in March began formally working with renowned instructor Pete Cowen – the first time in his career he’s listed someone other than Michael Bannon as his primary coach.
They haven’t had a lot of time together, but Quail Hollow Club has been the stage for some of McIlroy’s greatest hits: nine starts, seven top-10 finishes, two wins. He shot a course-record 62 in the final round on the way to victory in 2010, then broke his own record with a third-round 61 en route to the title in 2015.
There would seem to be no better time and place for a comeback.
“I've worked a little bit on it, sort of just tried to understand what I do well,” McIlroy said of the changes he’s been making. “I guess trying to sort of focus on my strengths.
“… It's just sort of understanding my move a little bit more,” he continued. “So that's sort of what I've been trying to do the last couple weeks. It feels good. It's all familiar feelings. It's all stuff that I've worked on before, but maybe just gotten away from a little bit by trying to focus on other things. I feel like I'm on a pretty good trajectory at the minute.”
That optimism has been in short supply, especially after McIlroy shot a final-round 76 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard in March. The uncharacteristic swoon dropped him into a tie for 10th place, eight shots behind DeChambeau, after which McIlroy said he was “dejected” and “maybe looking to go in a different direction,” cranking up the rumor mill that change was coming.
Soon he was working with Cowen, whose other students have included Lee Westwood, Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood, among others. McIlroy said that the changes he was making were for the long-term good of his career and, “It’ll take a bit of time.” He also said, “It’s not like it’s that far away.”
After a few weeks away from the TOUR he landed on the side of optimism Wednesday, explaining that it’s been a “familiar” change – Cowen had given him pointers from time to time – and that he’s merely “getting a slightly different opinion.” Still, few would have predicted he would be in this position after he won the FedExCup and Player of the Year, and notched top-10s in 74% of his starts, in 2019.
Similarly, it might have seemed unthinkable that he would go this long without hoisting a trophy after he captured the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions on Nov. 3, ’19. It was his 18th TOUR win.
He said Wednesday that if anything he’s been practicing harder since he became a dad – he and his wife, Erica, welcomed daughter Poppy last August – because his game just hasn’t been there. The addition of Cowen in March added further intrigue and underlined his commitment to find the player he used to be.
“We did some good work last week in Florida,” McIlroy said. “Again, I keep using this word understanding, but it really is just me trying to understand my swing better. … My body movement and how I turn through the ball is probably one of my biggest attributes and I probably neglected that a little bit by focusing on some other stuff.
“Just being able to turn my right side through it a little bit more,” he continued, “and focusing on that has automatically got the club coming down in a better plane, better path, and then ultimately that leads to better shots.”
McIlroy picked up his first TOUR victory at Quail Hollow in 2010. And the PGA Championship returns to Kiawah Island, South Carolina, where he blew away the field by eight in 2012, in two weeks.
Happy hunting grounds, better shots, a pretty good trajectory – McIlroy will try to put it all together as he tees off with Stewart Cink and Patrick Reed at 12:54 p.m. ET Thursday. The Old Rory is in there somewhere.