Coming off three consecutive PGA Tour victories, including the British Open and the PGA Championship, Rory McIlroy had sky-high expectations at The Barclays event in Paramus, New Jersey.
McIlroy didn't exactly light it up at the Barclays, but the impressive hot streak he was riding entering the tournament just had to cool off at some point. There were plenty of positive takeaways from the world No. 1's performance in New Jersey—mainly his blazing second-round 65.
Let's take a day-by-day look at how McIlroy fared at Ridgewood Country Club.
Day 4 Recap
McIlroy had an outside chance at competing for yet another title entering the final round. At four under for the tournament, he was close enough to the pace to possibly make a run up the leaderboard. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. Here's a look at his round-four scorecard:
With the entire field now through 72 holes, here's a look at the final leaderboard and McIlroy's finishing position:
McIlroy couldn't quite pull out his Sunday magic at the Barclays, but he played well enough to record yet another round under par. He spoke to Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel about his winning streak coming to an end after he completed his round.
Said McIlroy, "It was going to come to an end sooner or later, but the end of the day, the great thing about golf is always there's next week."
While McIlroy started his day with five consecutive pars, the world No. 1 drew some gasps from the crowd after stepping up to the first tee and launching his tee shot 306 yards—with a five wood, according to Golf World:
He finally recorded his first birdie on the sixth hole and parred out for a one-under 34 on the front nine, continuing to hit the long ball along the way, via PGA Tour:
The wheels came off shortly after. On the 10th hole, McIlroy took a disastrous double-bogey five after he ran into some trouble in a green-side bunker. That five basically took the world's No. 1 completely out of contention.
Late in the round, McIlroy did rebound, recording birdies on the 16th and 17th holes before parring the 18th to finish his round with a one-under 70 and five under for the tournament.
After his round, Sobel asked McIlroy if he'd be participating in the BMW Championship—which starts on September 4. Here's what he had to say:
Rory McIlroy says he's 90 percent in for BMW Championship in Denver. "The Broncos are playing the Colts that Sunday night. I want to go."— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) August 24, 2014
It looks like we'll have to wait and see if the NFL will keep the world's top golfer from a tournament appearance in Denver.
Day 3 Recap
After seeing the best and worse that McIlroy can do on a golf course in the first two rounds, Saturday's third round was simply an average day at the office for the 25-year-old superstar, as you can see from his scorecard below:
Even though it looked like McIlroy was making a surge up the leaderboard early in the round, he cooled off at the turn and settled into the area he will likely finish after Sunday's final round:
|T2||Bo Van Pelt||-8||7|
Full leaderboard can be found at PGATour.com. Scores current through 3:15 p.m. ET.
According to the PGA Tour's official Twitter account, McIlroy did get to within three strokes of the leaders:
Considering where McIlroy finished on Thursday—three-over par with a 74—the fact he was able to get within three strokes of the lead speaks volumes about how well he's playing and how quickly the switch can be turned on.
It also speaks to the competitive spirit in McIlroy, who told Bob Harig of ESPN.com that he playing the weekend was a huge motivating factor:
I said (Thursday) missing the cut isn't an option. I know how well I'm playing and how comfortable I am with my game, so even to miss a cut feeling like that would have felt really bad.
So that's why I put a little extra bit of effort in yesterday and this morning and made sure I was ready to go out there this afternoon.
That extra work did allow McIlroy to get back in contention heading into Saturday, as he started the day tied for 26th at three-under par. The difference for the Irishman this week compared to the PGA Championship, according to Justin Ray of the Golf Channel, has been on the green:
Rory McIlroy: 1-for-13 on putts between 10-20 feet this week. He was 8-for-22 from that distance in his PGA Championship win.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) August 23, 2014
One thing that didn't abandon McIlroy on Saturday is his driver, which the PGA Tour video below shows how effective he was off the tee at the 16th hole:
The British Open and PGA Championship winner moved up one spot into a tie for 25th, though it wasn't substantial enough to put him in contention on Sunday.
Instead, McIlroy will be playing for pride. It's not quite as exhilarating as playing for a fourth-straight win, but this tournament could be a good thing. He was dominating the tour in ways that few players have in recent years, so complacency could have settled in very soon.
Thursday was a wake-up call. Friday proved McIlroy was willing to put in the work. Saturday was about keeping up the pace.
Day 2 Recap
If Thursday was an example of the worst McIlroy has to offer at this particular moment, Friday was more proof of why he is the best player in the world. Facing an uphill climb just to make the cut, the 25-year-old put on a clinic to not only stick around all weekend but get under par.
As you can see from McIlroy's scorecard below, he played a spotless round and built momentum needed to make a run this weekend:
Looking at the overall leaderboard, McIlroy is still facing a steep walk up a mountain to win his fourth straight event but is within shouting distance of the leaders:
|T6||Bo Van Pelt||-6||F|
Full leaderboard can be found at PGATour.com
The belief in sports is that the true test of a champion's ability comes out in moments of adversity. McIlroy was about as low as a golfer could get, at least considering how he had played the last three events, by shooting a 74 on Thursday.
It would have been easy to write the young superstar off, yet he did what all great champions do by proving the first round was simply a blip on the radar of big things still to come.
In addition to helping his own cause, McIlroy was apparently inspiring other players on the course Friday, as Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel provided this quote from co-leader Adam Scott:
Inspired by Rory McIlroy, former No. 1 Adam Scott tied for lead. "It's motivating for me. I believe if he can do it, I can do it for sure."— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) August 22, 2014
Sobel also made a great point about how fans and the media spoke too soon about McIlroy's inability to play well on Friday due to his early-season struggles:
Ever since it was declared that Rory McIlroy couldn’t play on Fridays, his last four Friday rounds have been 66-64-67-65.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) August 22, 2014
McIlroy certainly wasn't lacking for confidence before his round started, noting on Twitter that he was ready to go following a morning workout:
Morning gym session done... Ready to make a comeback today @TheBarclaysGolf— Rory Mcilroy (@McIlroyRory) August 22, 2014
Listening to McIlroy after Thursday's round, via Golf.com, it was interesting to hear him discuss what he thought went wrong and how it contrasts to the previous tweet:
Fatigue isn't playing a part. It's I think just not putting the time in that I probably should have over the past week. And I think I allowed myself that and deserved that. But this is the consequence of it and I need to work hard this afternoon and go out tomorrow and shoot a good number.
It just seemed right off the bat that McIlroy had put his bad first round behind him. He had a birdie on the first hole that brought him within one stroke of the initial cut line for the day, then kicked things into another gear near the turn by going birdie-par-birdie on the last three holes.
Following back-to-back pars on No. 10 and 11, McIlroy made another surge with consecutive birdies on 12 and 13. That moved him to two-under par, three strokes ahead of the projected cut line.
McIlroy's magic wasn't done, as he closed the round out strong with a birdie on the par-five 17th hole and par on No. 18 to finish with a six-under 65 on Friday.
The only problem he will have trying to keep his winning streak going is the top seven players on the leaderboard also shot in the 60s on Friday, so being five strokes behind going into the weekend is almost insurmountable with so many low scores out there.
Of course, would you really bet against McIlroy right now? After all, he did lower his score by nine strokes in one day.
Day 1 Recap
McIlroy's tournament got off to a poor start, however, as he shot three over par in the opening round.
McIlroy has never won this event and has finished in the top 20 only once (2013), so he was fighting history in more ways than one when his day kicked off early Thursday. He said to The Associated Press prior to the event, via the San Jose Mercury News, that getting better each week was essential.
"I want to finish the season well," McIlroy said. "I want to be up there in contention week in and week out. I feel like the season I had deserves a finish like that. So I'm going to just grind it out every week until I get a bit of a break after the Ryder Cup."
However, the early returns for the 25-year-old were not good. McIlroy was near the bottom of the leaderboard for most of the first round before saving face late to avoid a completely wasted effort, finishing with a three-over-par 74 after Round 1.
Here's a look at McIlroy's scorecard from the first round:
Note: McIlroy started Round 1 on the back nine.
As you can see, not a sterling effort from McIlroy. It also left him far down the leaderboard:
|T1||Charles Howell III||-5||F|
McIlroy didn't pull any punches after the round, noting on Twitter that today wasn't "his best day," which is an understatement:
Definitely not my best today. Had a productive practice session this afternoon. Hopefully a low round tomorrow can get me back in the hunt!— Rory Mcilroy (@McIlroyRory) August 21, 2014
We have seen McIlroy go through a progression this year. He didn't win on the PGA Tour from November through June. Then at the British Open, he started a run of winning the likes of which we haven't seen since Tiger Woods in 2007-08.
It's important to remember that golf is a humbling game. Woods is a shell of his former self, due in part to injuries and swing changes that haven't made him better. McIlroy, as great as he is, has proved to be vulnerable from time to time.
Thursday at The Barclays was the first time we have seen McIlroy look human in more than a month, and it was alarming. When you scan the leaderboard now, the expectation is his name will be at or near the top with a chance to contend Sunday.
Shane Bacon of Yahoo Sports noted after McIlroy's round was over that it was his worst single day on tour in a long time:
Rory McIlroy opens the Barclays with a 3-over 74, his highest score on Tour since June 14.— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) August 21, 2014
It will take a huge effort for McIlroy just to make the cut, depending on what happens when the rest of the field tees off Thursday, but he's come back from the brink before.
Early in the round, Jason Sobel of Golf Channel noted that McIlroy's bogey on No. 13 dropped him to the bottom of the leaderboard:
Rory McIlroy makes bogey. Now in last, trailing by seven. After hot month, someone must have poured some icy water on him to cool him off.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) August 21, 2014
The note at the end about icy water is a reference to McIlroy taking part in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge earlier in the week on The Tonight Show:
Even though optimism is low right now, Golf Central tweeted a note about how McIlroy's score on his first nine holes (four-over-par 40) doesn't necessarily spell doom for him, based on what he's done in similar situations this season:
Rory McIlroy’s opening 4-over 40 is his 8th 40+ 9-hole score this season (finished top-25 in previous 7, top-5 in 3). pic.twitter.com/c1R94zVNtb— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) August 21, 2014
It's easy to forget that McIlroy's season didn't take off until July. He was playing well before that, with six top-10 finishes through The Players Championship in May, but finished tied for 15th at the Memorial and tied for 23rd at the U.S. Open before reeling off three straight PGA Tour wins.
In addition to his slow start, McIlroy has bad days that don't usually result in bad tournaments. He shot a 77 in the second round of the Masters but finished tied for eighth overall; his only round over par at the Memorial was a 78 in the second round.
The point is that McIlroy's ability to compartmentalize a bad round is astounding and has served him well numerous times this season. He has an uphill climb to get back in contention, but if anyone can do it, McIlroy is the one.
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