Rory McIlroy won't win the 2013 Players Championship like he wanted.
Without a stellar final round (and a small collapse from some other players ahead of him) it's unlikely that the former World No. 1 will even finish inside the top 10.
Yet despite all of that, the Players this year has not been a disappointment for McIlroy. In fact, regardless of what the leaderboard might indicate, the Northern Irishman's time at TPC Sawgrass has been beneficial in many ways and has shown some real positive steps in his game—positives that should hold him in great stead for the next major in the year, the U.S. Open.
It's important to remember in this tournament that this is a very hard course to play. Tiger Woods has historically struggled here, as have many of the greats before, and without a little bit of luck and a slew of excellent shots, there's no way that any golfer can thrive on the TPC Sawgrass course.
Thus McIlroy's showing at the Players Championship is going to be littered with birdies and bogeys. Like every other golfer, it's going to be dominated by errors and stellar shots—that's just the type of play that seems to come out of of this tournament every time.
So before the talk about a poor round or three from McIlroy sets in, there needs to be a clear understanding about just how high the stakes are in this event.
It's the definition of a make-it or break-it course, and so often, the top golfers in the world end up doing a little bit of both throughout the four rounds of action.
For McIlroy, even with the errors, it's been a fairly successful showing.
His driving game is good—which is tough to do on the tricky holes here—and his approach to the green is also strong, at over 70 percent in regulation.
His short game is struggling, but that can be improved, and shouldn't have as much of an impact over a more open course like the Merion Golf Club. In fact, given the good form he's shown in the short-iron game, you'd have to think that being at Merion will stand as an advantage for the 24-year-old.
The biggest doubt surrounding Rory will always be his mental approach, but having won the U.S. Open before, you'd have to think that those mental issues won't be as profound as they are at say, Augusta National. This is a tournament he's won (and won well), and that will no doubt give him a huge boost.
It might not seem like the former World No. 1 is in the greatest form right now, and overall, he's probably not. But what he is doing is showcasing little individual skills, that are slowly starting to come together over the course of an entire event.
With around a month until the start of the 2013 U.S. Open, McIlroy should have more than enough time to bring together all the elements and glimpses of form that he's shown this week, and start to turn that into positive rounds.
He may well do it over the final day of action at TPC Sawgrass, or the more difficult course may mean that it remains two steps forward and two steps back for McIlroy.
Either way, his form line shouldn't just be based upon his final scoring number or the statistics to emerge from the tournament itself. The wider picture must be consulted, and in the context of the 2013 Players Championship and Rory McIlroy, perhaps the future isn't as bleak as it might seem.
We'll find out soon enough at the U.S. Open.
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