What Rory McIlroy Has to Do to Avoid Becoming the Next Phil Mickelson

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMarch 30, 2013

HUMBLE, TX - MARCH 29:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland walks on the 11th hole during the second round of the Shell Houston Open at the Redstone Golf Club on March 29, 2013 in Humble, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy lost his No. 1 ranking in the world when Tiger Woods played sensational golf at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and roared to yet another victory at Bay Hill.

It was Woods' third victory of the season, and a couple of days after the tournament was over, the No. 1 golfer in the world received a series of congratulatory texts and messages.

One of those messages was from McIlroy.

The two men get along very well. McIlroy, 23, certainly grew up respecting Woods as he honed his game in Northern Ireland. As McIlroy grew into one of the top golfers in the world, Woods recognized his young rival's talent.

The two got along much better than Woods and Phil Mickelson, who was Woods' top rival for much of his run on the tour.

Mickelson has excellent numbers—41 tour championships and four major titles—but more has been expected of him.

While Mickelson is considered one of the top shotmakers in golf and is capable of playing sensationally well from time to time, his game has lacked the consistency needed to place him with the great golfers in the game's history.

Golf analysts have tried to figure out why Mickelson has not raised his game to the level that would put him in that category.

In some cases, Mickelson's go-for-broke mentality has something to do with it. Mickelson regularly refuses to play it safe when he is in a position to win or even contend for a title.

That can lead to some spectacular and memorable shots. It can also lead to disaster.

When Mickelson has gone for it and failed, it seems to weigh on his psyche, and he has a tough time coming out of it.

There are other factors, including the intangible characteristic of confidence. Mickelson's a proud man and would never admit to a lack of believing in himself, but his play in big tournament leads to the question of whether he really believes he is good enough to beat Woods and the other top players in the game.

McIlroy had a certain swagger when he walked down the fairways last year as he dominated the PGA tour with four tournament victories and his second career major title when he won the PGA.

There was little doubt that he believed in himself, and he was playing the game at a very high level.

He was hitting the ball with overwhelming power (310.1 yards driving average; fifth on the tour), and his scoring was sensational (68.873 scoring average; first on the tour).

But McIlroy has not kept his game together this season.

Going into the Shell Houston Open, McIlroy was still hitting the ball as well as ever (312.4 yards per drive), but his scoring had dropped to 15th on the tour. He had just $209,750 in earnings.

It's too early to say that McIlroy has fallen dramatically, as none of this season's majors have been played.

But he is off to a slow start.

After sending the congratulatory message to Woods, Tiger responded with one of his own, urging his top rival to turn it on himself and to join the battle.

All golfers go though ups and downs. McIlroy must overcome a down start to show he belongs at a level with Woods and not with Mickelson.