Rory McIlroy: What Rory Must Do to Capture 2012 U.S. Open Title
Rory McIlroy will enter the Olympic Club Thursday looking to defend his crown of U.S. Open Champion. He captured the 2011 Open at Congressional in record fashion, shattering the scoring mark with his unfathomable 16-under-par total. He finished a whopping eight strokes ahead of the second-place finisher and broke 70 in every round.
After some issues in his personal life were resolved and he recovered from an injured wrist, McIlroy went on a tear. From September of 2011 to March of 2012, McIlroy's worst finish in a tournament was 11th. He won twice and recorded four runner-up finishes. He was contending in every tournament he played in and looked to be taking his game to another level.
McIlroy suddenly came crashing back to Earth. He fell apart over the weekend at the Masters and was not a contender. After bouncing back at Quail Hollow with a tie for second, McIlroy unraveled. He missed three consecutive cuts at The Players Championship, the BMW PGA Championship and the Memorial.
This prompted McIlroy to enter the Fed Ex St. Jude classic last week. While he had the lead on Sunday, he struggled on the back nine and finished in a tie for seventh. He looked to be in good form again, but you have to wonder if his hooked drive on 18 that found the water will leave doubt in his mind.
Rory will be hard pressed to successfully defend his title at the Olympic Club. The course setup is much less friendly to his style. He might not be fully confident in his game at the moment. Then again, we all doubted him last year on the heels of his Masters collapse.
Here are some specifics as to what Rory must do to defend his title.
Have a Short Memory
It is imperative for McIlroy to get the disappointing back nine last week out of his head. McIlroy has as much reason to doubt himself now than perhaps ever before. He went from having a chance to win every week to missing the cut every week. While he seemed to have found the answers at St Jude, his game fell apart again on him over the final nine holes.
McIlroy cannot allow doubt to enter his mind or he has no chance. He does strongly believe in his abilities as a golfer, and it is clear that he can bounce back from bad performances.
However, you do need to worry about the doubt creeping in, because he has many more reasons to doubt himself now than he did two months ago.
Unlike his Augusta collapse, it may be difficult for McIlroy to rationalize what caused his play to falter. He chalked up the 2010 Masters to a learning experience as it was the first time he slept on a Saturday lead in a major. I am not sure that he has a clear-cut picture as to what has gone wrong recently.
Improve Driving Accuracy
McIlroy's wildness off the tee jumps off at you when viewing his statistics this season. He ranks 127th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy, only hitting 56.5 percent of fairways. McIlroy cannot win the U.S. Open driving the ball that erratically.
An average week off the tee for him and he won't be able to sniff the lead on Sunday. It might be a simple point, but it is a critical one. Get the ball in play, or you have no chance.
Have a Fade in the Arsenal
Martin Kaymer told the Golf Channel in an interview that he feels comfortable this week because the course sets up for a fade. This means that the course favors ball-flight from left to right.
That could be an issue for McIlroy because of his strong tendency to play a draw from right to left. He is much more comfortable with that shot than a fade. This was made clear by some of the lines he took at Sawgrass. He flirted with tree lines and hazards in order to draw the ball in situations where the shot needed was a fade.
Seeing as how it did not work at Sawgrass, it will certainly not work at the U.S. Open. McIlroy will have to execute some high-pressure fades this week.
Do Not Form a Negative Attitude About the Course
McIlroy is a golfer who is clearly not fond of some courses or certain playing conditions. He declined to attend The Players at Sawgrass in 2011 as he did not feel the course suited his game. He also made remarks about not being fond of weather playing a factor in tournaments after the 2011 British Open.
McIlroy cannot allow himself to get upset by how the course is tailored to his game or what effect the breezes off the San Franciso bay will have on scoring. Olympic Club is much less of a favorable course for him than Congressional was.
At the British Open and Sawgrass, McIlroy looked visibly disinterested when he struggled. It is almost as if he checks out when he decides a course or conditions are not beneficial for his game. If this happens at all in the U.S. Open, he will have no chance.
Battle to Grind out Pars
McIlroy is not a grinding type of golfer who has to fight for every stroke. When his game is on, he scores by giving himself a preponderance of birdie opportunities. Even at his best, he still leaves shots on the board. His U.S. Open score last year could have easily been 20 under-par.
At this course, it is likely that McIlroy will face much fewer scoring chances and instead be looking to save par much more often. He is going to have to play a different brand of golf than he is used to, because he simply will not have enough holes where par is a given for him.
Essentially, I have listed both physical and mental aspects of the game that Rory McIlroy will need in order to win a second straight U.S. Open.
The tournament is the toughest mental test of golf that exists. If McIlroy has any doubt in his mind, he will not come close to winning.
He will have to play a different brand of golf on the course as well: one where he is grinding it out to save strokes and making the most of a few scoring chances that will happen.
That is not the type of golf that McIlroy plays, but he will need to this week in order to win. It is a tall order for Rory to repeat at the Olympic Club. However, so was winning last year after blowing the Masters only two months before.