Since his unbelievable victory at last year's U.S. Open, Rory McIlroy has not been the same.
McIlroy is one of golf's brightest and most talented young golfers, but he has had a very up-and-down 2012 season. His No. 1 world ranking was overtaken by Luke Donald, and he has missed three cuts in his last four PGA Tour events.
At the 2012 Open Championship, McIlroy has continued to show why he is not the same dominant golfer he once was. He has shot three rounds at 67, 75 and 73 and sits tied for 64th at plus-five.
The unpredictable weather and winds at Royal Lytham make it incredibly important for players to be accurate with their driver. This is not Rory's specialty, and PGATour.com lists him at 147th in driving accuracy. His chronic missing of the fairways is what puts him at disadvantages in tournaments.
His putting has also not been on point. He seems to be playing more conservatively, leaving shots short of the cup, and having a hard time reading lines. McIlroy also seems to blow up under the slightest amount of pressure. The clearest example was his 2011 Masters meltdown.
But even at this year's Open, he had eight birdies in first 25 holes and finished in the top 10 after the first round. Since, he has only had one in his last 29 holes.
What these struggles mean is that the Irishman needs to go back to the drawing board.
The lack of consistency in his swing causes his drives to fly all over the place. He needs to be more focused when looking at his lines for putts. He also needs to keep his emotions in check and not let them interfere with his play. Once he shoots one bad shot, his day usually slides downhill from there. He needs to regain confidence in both himself and his game.
If the 23-year-old can adjust these issues, he will see a quick return to his once top form and be able to hang with the big players. The less media attention surrounding him should help him concentrate and will illuminate his return to form that much more when it happens.
Until then, McIlroy will continue with his frustrations and disappointments. His reliability will be questioned, and he will start to see his invites to big tournaments and Ryder Cup caps disappear, and his golfing image will be slightly tainted.
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