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McIlroy, McDowell Fumbling For Form

by Brian Keogh - July 10, 2017

PORTSTEWART, NORTHERN IRELAND | Patience is a virtue, but the golfing gods find ways to test even the best, and for Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell – two Northern Irishmen who are a long way from finding the form that made them worldbeaters – the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open simply raised more vexing questions.

For McIlroy, the rib injury he suffered in January has proved more than debilitating, preventing him from getting into any meaningful competitive rhythm, as his missed cut (72-73) as tournament host at Portstewart Golf Club underscored.

He wants to be top dog but since Tiger Woods’ 281-week run at the top of the world ranking ended in October 2011, the world No. 1 spot has changed hands no fewer than 24 times.

McIlroy has held it longer than most in total (95 weeks) but he’s alternated at the top with eight different players – Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald, Woods, Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson – and his desire to separate himself from the rest again is proving to be more of a hindrance than a help.

“I think we were spoiled in the 2000s with Tiger and being able to keep that (dominance),” McIlroy said.

“There’s been guys that have been able to play that level of golf for six months, nine months maybe, but not being able to keep that form for six years, seven years, eight years.

“I think that’s a testament to just how driven and how good Tiger was. I’d love to get to that point and being able to keep that for a long time.”

McIlroy pointed out that dips in form are only natural for golfers and part and parcel of the journey. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t driven. He still aspires to become a silent assassin of the fairways in the Woods mould.

“I’m hitting the prime of my career now, and I’d love to be able to get on a sustained run like Tiger did back then,” he said. “It will take a lot of work, a lot of drive, a lot of practise, but I’m willing to do that.”

Given his streakiness with the putter, one wonders how much mental scar tissue McIlroy has accumulated.

Missing the cut in your home open is never pleasant, and it took a wise old head in Pádraig Harrington to put the vicissitudes of the game into perspective.

After hearing that McDowell, who opened with 67 at Portstewart last Thursday, left without saying a word after a double bogey finish to a Friday 75 led to his second successive missed cut, Harrington said: “There are 156 players out there and these guys are good.

Nobody has the power and control to guarantee that things are going to happen for you. “You have to suck it up and be patient and understand that the same golf missing the cut this week could win the tournament next week.”

Having fallen to 100th in the world last week, McDowell was projected to slip outside the top 100 for the first time since 27 January 2008.

“I didn’t know I was No. 100,” McDowell said with a wry grin when told by a reporter at Portstewart of the effect of bogeying the last four holes to miss the cut in the HNA Open de France the previous week.

“Thanks for breaking my heart … I don’t look at the Official Golf World Ranking on a Monday morning, unless there’s something worth tuning in for. Am I 100th in the world? Anybody got a pint of Guinness I can have? Listen, put it this way: I knew that was on the way if I didn’t get my act together.”

McDowell’s gallows humour drew laughs, but he must now finish in the top three not already exempt at this week’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open to avoid missing the Open Championship for the first time since 2004. The 2010 US Open champion has just one top-10 finish in his past 18 major appearances, missing eight cuts.

In an era of Howitzer-like hitters, McDowell is using small-calibre ammunition, and he admits that for him, it all comes down to belief, not brawn.

“The big piece of the puzzle that has been missing for me a little is that belief and that confidence,” he said. “It’s just kind of been a waiting game which has tested our patience so far this season. But we’ll keep chugging away.”

Asked if he believed he could get back to where he was five years ago, when he won multiple times around the world, he admitted he’s had his dark days.

“The last few years and the first half of last year, I doubted myself a little bit and felt I didn’t have what it took anymore to get back to where I wanted to be,” he confessed.

“But the last 12 months it’s been much, much better. I feel like I have ignored the negativity in my own mind by working harder again and doing the things I used to do well.”

As McDowell knows, when it comes to golfers, the flesh might be willing but the six inches between the ears are something else entirely.

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