Judging by the Jekyll and Hyde act Rory McIlroy has performed this season, predicting how he will fare at Merion Golf Club for the 113th U.S. Open this week would equate to solving a Rubik's Cube blindfolded.
Winless in 2013, McIlroy’s been pedestrian at best with four mediocre finishes ranging from T25 to T57, as well as four top 10s and a controversial withdrawal from the Honda Classic on account of a “wisdom tooth” debacle. Add a pair of missed cuts on the European Tour and troubling performance stats like 106th in driving accuracy percentage and 123rd in strokes gained-putting, and McIlroy looks less like a two-time major champion and more like run-of-the-mill, streaky pro.
Strangely enough, the ebb and flow of McIlroy’s season may be in his nature. Just look at his season this time last year on the PGA Tour. He stormed through the gate with a second, first and third-place finish in his first three events. But then he plummeted, missing three cuts in his next seven events and placing outside of the top 40 twice.
But as soon as we started counting him out, McIlroy won the PGA Championship and two FedEx Cup Playoff events in a span of four weeks.
There may not be a whole lot of rhythm to his game, but McIlroy is undeniably the real deal.
You should expect a high finish from Rory at Merion for a few key reasons.
First, McIlroy is lethal with his irons. He hits 70.31 percent of greens in regulation, which ranks fourth on the tour (some context: Tiger ranks 38th). GIR is an absolutely imperative stat at the U.S. Open, where the chosen course is designed in diabolical fashion —fairways so narrow they span barely 20 yards in width, rough that's three to four inches thick and greens so fast it’s like you’re putting on a table top.
Hitting greens in regulation is Rory’s strength, and it may put him in contention on Sunday.
Second, Rory has more Tiger in him than Phil. His game is built for greatness.
At just 24, McIlroy put together one of the greatest single seasons golf has ever seen in 2012: six worldwide victories, including the PGA Championship, money titles on the European and PGA Tours, a Ryder Cup victory, and a No. 1 world ranking.
Although at times McIlroy plays with a reckless abandon that resembles the erratic Phil Mickelson, he's shown an intensity and aptitude for winning similar to one of golf's greatest champions, Tiger Woods. And like Woods, McIlroy will be geared up for the U.S. Open because he knows that majors are where you make a name for yourself in golf’s record books.
Lastly, McIlroy's been there. He’s put himself in the thick of it on golf’s most daunting, pressure-filled stages, experiencing as much elation as bitter defeat.
McIlroy tied the record for opening-round score at the British Open with a nine-under-par 63 in 2010 at St. Andrews. He held the 54-hole lead at the Masters in 2011, only to let it slip away late on Sunday. He routed two major fields by eight shots a piece, first at Congressional in 2011 and then at Kiawah in 2012.
Despite his age and inexperience, he also has accomplished more in five years of golf than most professionals achieve in their entire careers. He's now learning firsthand the rigors of growing up, be it working through a club change with Nike or dealing with the spotlight of a star-studded relationship with his girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki.
Merion may be the antidote to Rory’s erratic 2013 campaign. The 113th U.S. Open will bring out the best in Rory McIlroy, who remains the most promising young golfer in the sport.