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Get your eye back on the ball, Rory

ESPN staff
June 20, 2012

To listen to Rory McIlroy before the US Open, you were given the distinct impression that no player - not even Tiger Woods - had prepared as thoroughly as the Northern Irishman for the test that awaited at Olympic Club.

"I flew to San Francisco on Saturday morning," McIlroy revealed two weeks ago, when asked to recount his movements after missing the cut at the BMW PGA Championship at the end of May. "I went out and played a little at Olympic Saturday evening, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday.

"So I got three good days there, three full days. So it was good. It was good to play a couple of rounds there and get a feel for the golf course."

Yet, to listen to the defending champion talk after his defence at the tournament ended with a missed cut - his fourth in five tournaments - you were fed the thesis that his disappointing performance was as a result of an unfamiliarity with the conditions.

"I think the thing is that we're just not used to playing this sort of golf course week in, week out," McIlroy said. "You have to, of course you have to adapt and you have to adjust. We're not used to having to land balls before the edge of the greens to let them run on.

"And it's just something that you just have to adjust to in this tournament, and I wasn't able to do that very well this week."

McIlroy can't have it both ways - was he prepared or not? He obviously saw enough of the course in the build-up to get his head around the challenges it would pose, so his later analysis seems to ring a little hollow.

Playing the course isn't the be-all and end-all, of course - Lee Westwood, who could well have won if his ball hadn't remained up a tree at the fifth during his final round, did not play many practice rounds before the tournament, preferring to keep himself fresh.

"You learn golf courses quickly and I've only played a few holes on this one but I feel like I'm getting to know it already," he said early on Wednesday.

McIlroy then, whether intentionally or not, was misleading the public with his interview answers on Friday. Preparation wasn't the problem - it was the quality of his swing.

It wasn't that he didn't know where he needed to put his ball, but rather that he couldn't put his ball in those spots.

The 23-year-old has faced some uncomfortable questions about his work ethic in recent weeks, as the quality of his tournament results increasingly corrolates inversely with the amount of time he spends with his girlfriend, female tennis player Caroline Wozniacki.

McIlroy was with Wozniacki again on Tuesday, watching her crash out of the AEGON International at Eastbourne against American Christina McHale.

USGA have right man in their corner

Mike Davis intervenes at the 18th © Getty Images
  • The US Open has had its misfires in the recent past - Shinecock Hills springs to mind - but, under the management of USGA executive director Mike Davis, has really hit its stride in recent years.
  • Everyone knows the US Open is supposed to be the hardest test in golf, and in recent years that has proven true - without being unfair. At Pebble Beach in 2010 and Olympic Club this year, good shots were rewarded and bad shots were penalised - with no real overlap. What is more, almost every shot in the bag was prodded and probed - players could not get by simply on their accurate drives, their pinpoint approaches or their chipping - they had to execute all three.
  • For that, Davis has to take much of the credit. And, unwittingly, he did get his moment in the spotlight - running onto the 18th green to tackle the buffoon who interrupted Webb Simpson's presentation ceremony. Good on ya, Mike.

Wozniacki, who has acquired something of an Irish accent when speaking in English, noted: "I would have liked to have won that match, but at least I got some points in. I'm just trying to work on a few things before Wimbledon."

The Dane's results have also suffered since she started spending more time with McIlroy. When they met she was the world No. 1 (as she delighted in joking with him, then golf's world No. 2, about) - now she is seventh and slipping.

It's hard to be too critical of two young sportspeople clearly trying to enjoy a life outside of their profession, but you do wonder what effect it is having on their respective games. McIlroy did not fail in San Francisco because the course layout was unfamiliar, he failed because he couldn't hit the ball in the places it needed to be.

That is a failure of technique, not preparation.

That is a failure of practice.

McIlroy is supremely gifted as a golfer, but that isn't enough to coast by in the extremely competitive world of professional golf. If he wants to continue to be a great player, he needs to put in the hard yards. He was making the right noises last week, but his appearance in Eastbourne on Monday (honestly, what rich person ever wants to go to Eastbourne?!) strikes a different tone.

"I just realised that you just got to keep working hard and it doesn't come easy to you all the time," McIlroy said on Friday. "It hasn't been the greatest run over the last sort of six weeks or whatever it is; but as I said, I still see enough good stuff in the rounds that it does give me hope that it's not very far away."

If it's not far away then go find it, Rory.

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