US Open Golf Predictions 2012: Rory McIlroy's Repeat Chances
Rory McIlroy is back to the defend his title at the U.S. Open, looking to regain the magic that took him to win it in record-setting fashion.
He obliterated the field last year at Congressional Country Club, winning by eight strokes, but this year at the Olympic Club he will face a whole different kind of monster, not only with the course, but with the opposition of the world's elite players, starting with three-time champion and former No. 1 player in the world Tiger Woods.
Woods seems to be back in top form and is the odds-on favorite to win the tournament, despite McIlroy's performance last year.
Luke Donald, No. 1 in the world and Lee Westwood, No. 3 in the world, are also present to challenge for the title.
Players like Jason Dufner, arguably the hottest player on the PGA Tour, Masters champion Bubba Watson and Players Championship winner Matt Kuchar are also some of the main challengers this weekend.
Also, four-time major winner Phil Mickelson has to be included on any talk surrounding the possible winners at any tournament, especially a major.
But will McIlroy be able to successfully defend his title? Let's take a look at some of the determining factors for his chances at becoming just the fourth player ever to win the U.S. Open in consecutive years.
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
McIlroy won the U.S. Open last year in runaway fashion, establishing 11 new tournament records along the way.
He did it in such a dominating way that everyone started buzzing about his greatness and how many more major titles he would win in his career.
A lot of people expected him to fill the void left at the moment by Tiger Woods and he did. Well, sort of.
While he stringed a series of Top-Five finishes in 12 of his next 14 tournaments after the U.S. Open, he has not contended in any of the three majors since.
He only had one win, which earned him the top spot in the world rankings, but he has since handed it back to the more consistent Luke Donald, not once, but twice.
To his credit, McIlroy achieved two big goals by winning his first major and becoming the world's No. 1 player.
He seems to be putting too much pressure on himself, and if he is to win this weekend, he must go back to what made him that consistent player and fully regain his confidence. Only then he can win a major again.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
McIlroy faced and beat the world's elite players last year. That is the nature of a major tournament: The world's best gather to attempt to become a major champion.
One important player wasn't at the Congressional Country Club though—Tiger Woods.
Woods is back this year and playing close to his old top form which certainly will add to the challenge of winning "Golf's Toughest Test".
Add to this the presence of Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, the current and former No. 1 player in the world. Donald has won six times in the last 16 months, while Westwood has won six times in the past 14 months.
They are both seeking their first major win and will certainly be driven by that fact to go out and win it.
Three of the top four players in the world have all won in recent weeks, and enter the golf season's second major as the favorites.
There are players like world No. 9 Jason Dufner, who is playing better than anyone lately with two wins and a second place finish in his last three tournaments.
Bubba Watson won the Masters and Matt Kuchar won the Players Championship; Hunter Mahan—a winner twice this year—and Justin Rose have won the first two WGC events this year. All four are capable of winning here.
Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler are two young players expected to contend at the major. Johnson just won this weekend on his second start since returning from a back injury, while Fowler won last month for the first time on the PGA Tour.
While the competition is once again, the top players in the world, many of them seem to be playing much better golf lately than the defending champ.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Momentum is always a good thing going into any tournament. More so when you are talking about ,ajor competition.
McIlroy had missed three straight cuts, then added Memphis to his schedule to shake off some rust and get some more game reps in. Main goal, checked.
But he threw away a two-shot lead and went into the water on 18 to finish T7 on a tournament he could have won if not for a disastrous back nine.
Certainly this is a recipe for disaster coming into a major tournament that is no walk in the park, despite his marvelous demonstration last year.
But McIlroy didn't get to win the U.S. Open last year and be the world's No. 1 player by accident. His streak of 12 top-five finishes in 14 tournaments worldwide is a testament to how good he can be.
Certainly momentum is not on his side. But as is the case with any streak, they end and you start a new one.
A player like him cannot be down for too long. This could be the start of a new successful streak of excellent performances.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
When he is on his game, McIlroy can be as dominant as any other of the top players in the world. But when he is off, he is way off and certainly can unravel pretty quickly.
He is one of the few players capable of electrifying the galleries with his measured power and pin-point precision golf game.
Yet, in golf, as is the case with most sports, the mental aspects of the game are a big chunk of a player's game.
His game doesn't look flawed mechanically, but it does appear to be a mental problem more than anything else for McIlroy.
So it's worrisome when you see him with successive missed cuts at Sawgrass, Wentworth and Memorial, followed by the splashdown on the 18th hole in Memphis.
And he has admitted to the Belfast Telegraph that he has dealing with off-course issues the past few months:
"I’m trying to find the perfect balance between golf and having a normal life. I have a lot more going on in my life than golf. Caroline and I both travel a lot and it’s important we find time to do the things we want to do."
Hopefully he will find that balance in time for a rebound performance this weekend at the U.S. Open.