Rory McIlroy Still Trying to Get Comfortable in PGA Superstar Bubble

Dan JanutoloContributor IJune 29, 2013

Rory McIlroy is not all smiles this year on tour.
Rory McIlroy is not all smiles this year on tour.Andrew Redington/Getty Images

I thought I had hit it long and down the center earlier this year with the prediction that the PGA Tour would finally have a great rivalry as Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods teed it up for the 2013 season.  It turns out I didn't see that drive bounce into the deep rough from the box.

Tiger has not disappointed, although he hasn't put a major trophy on his mantel yet this year.  Nick Faldo pointed out a few days ago that Tiger is proving to be a mere mortal this year; however, Tiger has a 50 percent winning percentage in stroke play events this season through eight tournaments. What exactly is "mortal" about that?

Rory, on the other hand, while looking immortal in golf terms the previous two seasons, is looking like a journeyman player this year.  If you listen to PGA Tour commentators, Rory has a whole laundry list of issues.  

To hear the naysayers, one would think Rory has many issues to overcome: new clubs, new girlfriend, can't putt, driver off, looks bored, no fire. The list goes on and on.  Rory has missed a bunch of cuts, hasn't been a factor in any major and just looks lackluster whenever he tees it up.  All of these things are byproducts of the real issue: He needs to figure out how he wants to live the dream now that he's moved into golf's most exclusive neighborhood.

In comparison, Tiger is part of the one percent of humankind who seems, well, immortal. When players are thrust into the spotlight, they may lose focus on the one thing that made them soar in the first place.  Tiger, on the other hand, is the rare one who can usually have tunnel vision no matter the outside forces.

This is not a slap at Rory, but a realistic look at someone who is seems much more human when he's not wielding a golf club. 

When Tiger burst on the scene, he simply said, "Hello, world."  This comment seemed a lighthearted way to introduce himself, but I think it went much deeper.  In those two simple words, Tiger was challenging the world and embracing what he believed was a foregone conclusion.  His mansion was already built, he only had to furnish it.

Rory does not have the targeted mindset Tiger has, which is something many failed to recognize when dissecting the impending rivalry that many people wanted to see.  Tired of watching golf's shooting stars, some were convinced Rory was a superstar.  And he may yet be that rival to push Tiger—just not this year.

Anyone who plays golf will tell you that it is about 90 percent mental and 10 percent talent.  I think Rory wants to enjoy everything inside and outside of golf he's experiencing right now, and he's trying to figure out the best way to balance that.

His golf skills may look like the problem, but they have nothing to do with what's going on with Rory this year.  He's just going through a life-changing adjustment that most athletes do .  It is mental.  Unlike Tiger, Rory is trying to fit golf superstardom into his life, not the other way around. From all accounts, he's a nice guy who just happens to be a superstar, and he is trying to figure out how to be both simultaneously.

Rory has the competitive spirit to be one of the greatest players on the scene right now, but he doesn't have the killer instinct to be the greatest player ever.  Only a few ever do.  Therefore, instead of the laser focus we've seen from Tiger ever since he said, "Hello, world," we are seeing a young man with unbelievable talent trying to feel his way through a world nobody prepared him to enter.  He had mentors, but being Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington or Darren Clarke doesn't quite match up to being the media darling Rory is at the moment.   

The 2013 season will not define Rory, and we don't know the heights to which he will climb.  What we do know is Rory is not part of the "one and done" club.  This he has proven.  He already has the resume to be considered a successor to Tiger's crown, but Rory is not Tiger, and I don't think he wants to be.  He will learn to succeed within the bubble fans and the media have blown up around him, but that doesn't mean he will do it like Tiger, and nobody should expect that from him.

The rivalry may still materialize, but most didn't even give a thought to the non-golfing side of Rory.  He is one of the few with multiple major championships to their credit.  With that kind of fame comes opportunity and pressure on and off the course.  Normal people take their time navigating those waters.  Take away the golf prowess, and Rory seems to be a normal guy.

The media will let the world know about every issue Rory has.  Sports channels will run and rerun the three-foot putts that don't fall and tell us Rory has lost his touch on the greens.  The gossip rags will print every photograph they can that includes Rory and Caroline Wozniacki and write that she is ruining his game. And until he wins, that will be the tune resonating over and over in Rory's head. However, once he realizes the music will always be there, he needs to figure out what volume level he is comfortable with.

Rory has put himself in that rarefied air of professional golf where he is only measured by major championship victories (and defeats).  That is a place where very few golfers throughout history have lived.  

Tiger purposely moved into that neighborhood before he hit his first tee shot on the PGA Tour, and that is where he wanted to be.  

Rory, on the other hand, sheepishly bought real estate there by winning the US Open and PGA unexpectedly right out of the box.

RIght now, Rory is still reading over the Superstar Homeowners Association's welcome packet. Give him some time to settle in.  Once Rory, the normal guy, gets comfortable in Tiger's abnormal neighborhood, the list of issues will start to whittle down.

Then, the rivalry can begin in earnest.