The world’s hottest player has drawn comparisons with vintage Tiger lately, winning each of his last three starts and ascending to the world No. 1 ranking once again. He’s been so hot, really, that the only way to cool him off might have been to pour a bucket of ice cold water over his head.
At one point during their buddy-buddy extravaganza on Monday, they each completed the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, pouring the cold stuff over each other’s heads.
Apparently that icy dousing was enough to relieve Rory of his recent torridness.
After posting 11 of 12 rounds in the 60s during those three consecutive wins, with a scoring average of 67 and no round higher than 71, McIlroy opened his FedEx Cup playoff campaign with a 3-over 74 that may not have been freezing cold, but was hardly the scalding hot performance we’ve become accustomed to seeing.
Maybe we should have seen it coming, though.
Since arriving in the New York area, McIlroy has participated in a chipping contest with Jimmy Fallon, shilled Nike’s new line of irons, glad-handed at corporate outings and not only drenched Woods with ice water, but a certain TV starlet, as well.
If there’s a silver lining to these developments – well, besides the time spent with the starlet – it’s that he understands other demands on his time prevented him from playing his best golf over the opening 18 holes.
“I think it’s just not putting the time in that I probably should have over the past week and I think I allowed myself that and deserved that,” he said after his Thursday morning round. “But this is the sort of consequence of it and I need to work hard on this afternoon and go out tomorrow and shoot a good number.”
Let’s not overstate this “issue,” though.
A first-round 74 in the wake of three consecutive victories shouldn’t exactly be reason for Rory to break his clubs, rethink his swing and go back to the drawing board. Nor should it have us taking desperate leaps off the McIlroy bandwagon before it crashes with reckless abandon.
Sometimes a 74 is just a 74.
Sometimes it’s just not a big deal.
Sometimes, as Woods so often says, it is what it is.
Clearly, this is one of those times. Because as he noted afterward, it wasn’t even as bad as it could have been.
After opening with a pair of pars, McIlroy carded a double bogey on his third hole – the 12th at Ridgewood Country Club – then followed with a bogey on his next hole. By the time many people were finishing breakfast or fighting morning traffic, he was already Dead Freakin’ Last on the leaderboard.
“I just wasn't very good,” he stated matter-of-factly.
But the truth is, after those two holes, he wasn’t very bad, either.
McIlroy played his final 14 holes in even par, with two birdies against two bogeys. For the day, he hit seven of 14 fairways, 12 of 18 greens in regulation and needed 32 putts. Pedestrian numbers, sure, though nothing you’d call particularly ugly.
While he blamed his performance on the lack of preparation, he stopped short of saying he regretted any of it.
“It was inevitable after such a great few weeks,” he explained. “I wanted to enjoy it for a week. I came here Monday morning, hit some balls, practiced pretty well. But I guess taking a week off and sort of getting back into it this week, I probably just needed to give myself a little bit more time. But I wasn't going to do that. I was enjoying myself.”
Good for him. He deserved it.
Ask any golfer in the field – heck, any golfer in the world – if he’d trade places with McIlroy right now, taking those three wins even though they were followed by a tepid start this week, and they’ll dismiss such nonsense with a quizzical look and a headshake, if not something more resounding.
Following such a hot stretch over the past month, it was inevitable that Rory was going to cool off at some point. Maybe it was the ice water, maybe it wasn’t. Either way, this one round shouldn’t be of too much concern going forward.