A birdie on the 17th hole in Round 2 of a tournament can occasionally be a week-changing event for a struggling journeyman pro who is in desperate need of a paycheck, but it is typically not an overly important occurrence for the No. 2 ranked player in the world.
But when Rory McIlroy rolled in his birdied putt on the par-five eighth hole (his 17th hole of the day) at the Houston Open Friday, it was probably the most important event of the struggling young golfer’s season.
Had McIlroy missed that putt on the eighth hole, it would have thrown a gasoline truck onto a fire that has already been fiercely burning around his poor play for more than three months now.
Another missed cut for the 23-year-old Northern Irishman would have been a large step backward in what has already been a tumultuous season.
But McIlroy managed to drain his putt for a birdie and sneak into the weekend right on the cut-line number. He finished Friday with a two-under 70 that left him one under par overall.
In addition, McIlroy notified the PGA Tour at the 11th hour that he will also be attending next week’s Valero Texas Open, which had not previously been on his schedule.
McIlroy is clearly scrambling to find his game less than two weeks before the first major of the season, and it’s difficult to have a great deal of sympathy for him, as the wounds to McIlroy’s game have been largely self-inflicted.
First off, McIlroy decided to chase the endorsement dollars and change from the equipment he had used to win his first two major championships.
Any equipment change will typically take a player some time to get used to, but McIlroy changed to Nike, whose golf club manufacturing division is still fairly new in golf terms. And some still believe Nike produces equipment of a slightly lower quality when compared to the more established manufacturers such as Titleist, Taylor Made and Callaway.
Second, McIlroy has played an incredibly light schedule to this point, particularly when taking into account that he has been struggling with his game and new golf clubs in competition. Friday was just McIlroy’s ninth round of the 2013 season.
While most of the top players in the world were paying tribute to Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill last week, McIlroy took his struggling golf game to South Beach to enjoy some fun in the sun with his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.
Of course, every golfer prepares for major championships differently, but spending two weeks hanging out around South Beach probably wasn’t the best remedy for a broken golf game.
Now, less than two weeks before the Masters, McIlroy seems to be paying for his equipment change, his light schedule and what appears to be a lackadaisical approach to his preparation for the year’s first major.
It’s often easy to have sympathy for a player who is fighting his way through injuries or tragic personal issues. But it is difficult to feel sorry for a player who has put himself in a tough position due to his own poor decisions.
The first tee shot of the 2013 Masters will be struck in just 12 days, and McIlroy clearly plans to spend the next 12 days scrambling to regain his form heading into Augusta.
But at this point it may be too little too late.
Perhaps this has been just another speed bump on the 23-year-old’s learning curve.
For more golf news, insight and analysis, check out The Tour Report.