CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Rory McIlroy didn’t like falling out of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking this week, but he isn’t overly concerned about it.
That’s because he feels like his game is on the rise.
If he can get his wayward putter working in Thursday’s start of the Wells Fargo Championship, McIlroy just might be positioned to crack back into the top 10 in a big way.
He arrived at Quail Hollow Golf Club this week with some intangibles working for him.
“One of my favorite stops on Tour for a number of reasons,” McIlroy said after his pro-am round Wednesday. “Obviously, love the golf course, got fond memories.”
In 2010, McIlroy won his first PGA Tour title here in spectacular fashion, closing with a 62.
In four starts at Quail Hollow, McIlroy has that victory, a T-2 after a playoff loss and a T-10 finish.
Though McIlroy is looking for his first PGA Tour victory in 18 months, he likes the way he’s trending, especially the way his ball striking is progressing. Now, he just needs to get his putter going the same way.
“I’ve got into a few faults this year,” McIlroy said.
Including some putting faults McIlroy believes he is correcting.
During Wednesday’s pro-am, Dave Stockton, the putting guru, joined McIlroy at the 16th hole. McIlroy, however, didn’t ask for Stockton’s help, as he has in the past. In fact, McIlroy showed Stockton what he figured out on his own.
“To be honest, he hasn’t been putting very well this year,” Stockton said. “He showed me what was wrong. I think he really did figure it out on his own, and he looked good to me. I just let him go.”
McIlroy had that swoon last year, a loss of form that appeared to be brought on by an amalgam of issues, including his switch to new equipment with his big Nike contract and including legal issues that followed some management woes.
Toward the second half of last year, McIlroy’s form started turning around.
There was the victory at the Australian Open last December. There was his run into contention at the Honda Classic this March, when he played so well before stumbling to a 74 in the final round and losing in a playoff. There was promising play at the Masters earlier this month, when he tied for eighth despite a disappointing 77 in the second round. It was his best finish at Augusta National.
McIlroy believes his ball striking is back where he wants it, and now he needs his putter to take advantage.
“The back end of last year, and coming into this year, I wanted to focus on what my strengths were, and get those as strong as they could be,” McIlroy said. “You work off your strengths in this game. It’s the foundation of the game. For me, that’s driving the golf ball.
“I drove the golf ball not very well, for the better part of six or seven months last year. Then I started driving well the end of the year, and I've carried that through into this year. I'm happy with that. Ball striking-wise, it’s good.”
McIlroy couldn’t take advantage of some good ball striking at the Masters. He tied for eighth despite finishing nearly last in putting for the week.
“I missed 15 putts inside 8 feet,” McIlroy said.
Overall, McIlroy ranks 141st in strokes gained putting. That helped lead to McIlroy’s slide in the world rankings. This week marks the first time he isn’t among the top 10 in more than three years, since Jan. 16, 2011.
“If you look at it, I've earned more world ranking points this year than the top three players in the world,” McIlroy said. “I've had chances to win, I haven't quite won.
“I think it's because of the fast start and great year that I had in 2012. All those points are just starting to come off, and that's the reason “It's not nice to drop out, over three years in the top 10. You sort of get comfortable there. Hopefully I can get myself back up, you know, into the sort of territory I have been at the last few years.”
A more cooperative putter should lead there again. McIlroy said he actually discovered his putting problem in his last start, early in his final round of the Masters.
“I started standing a little too close to the ball, so my eye line was the far side of the ball,” McIlroy said. “Basically, I couldn't see a straight line. Where I thought I was aiming, I was aiming about 3 inches left of that. So, I've done a lot of work on the putting mirror in the last couple of weeks, and on the chalk line, training my eyes to see a straight line properly from where my eyes should be.”
Stockton liked what he saw in McIlroy’s stroke.
“I think he’s in a great place,” Stockton said.