PONTE VEDRA BEACH — The intensive political undercurrent permeating the PGA Tour is starting to weigh on Rory McIlroy. That’s the abridged explanation for the No. 3 player in the world putting forth a dismal showing in the Players Championship.
McIlroy never looked like himself over two rounds and two-plus days at TPC Sawgrass, offering what he termed a “blah” effort in the tour’s flagship event. After completing a one-over 73 with a slapdash bogey on the 18th hole on a sunny but chilly Saturday morning, the outspoken native of Northern Ireland was dismissed from the $25 million event with a five-over 149 total, his third worst 36-hole performance in 13 starts on the Stadium Course.
“Yeah, just very blah. Yeah, I guess the course, you just have to be really on to play well here,” said the 2019 champion. “If you're a little off, it definitely magnifies where you are off. It’s a bit of an enigma. Some years I come here, and like it feels easier than others. It's just a tricky golf course, and you don't hit fairways and you've got your work cut out for you.”
Sporting a fresh haircut—not a good one—and tired eyes, McIlroy missed the cut here for the sixth time, and although he can talk about being hampered with a misbehaving driver that he replaced a few weeks ago at the Genesis Invitational, his struggles came on and around the greens, proof that his fine motor skills were misfiring. He lost 4.268 strokes around the greens (ranking 141st in the 144-man field) and a bit more than three strokes putting.
He was given an out by being asked if the imposition on his time the last eight months or so—some of his own volition and some as the de facto leader among the player directors on the PGA Tour Policy Board—might be catching up to him. He has stepped up to be the face of the tour loyalists, not always easy and not always well received. He’s been leading the counteroffensive against the insurgent LIV Golf League.
“Yeah, it’s fair,” McIlroy said. “I'd love to get back to being a golfer. Look, it's been a busy couple of weeks, and it's been, honestly … a busy sort of six or eight months. But as I said at the start of the week, everything has sort of been announced now, and the wheels have been put in motion, so it should obviously quieten down from here.”
He’s referring to the tour’s new scheduling initiative starting in 2024 that was introduced on Tuesday by commissioner Jay Monahan. Details remain to be settled, including which four events will be locked in as designated tournaments, but the hard part, he suggested, is behind him.
“It's just the time management. The golf out here, that's fine, but it's just more the time at home to make sure you're getting prepared, to make sure that you're doing everything you can to be ready once you show up to these weeks,” said McIlroy, who had arrived at the Players after a T-2 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. “That's where I've maybe sacrificed a little bit of time with some of this other stuff. As I said, I'm ready to get back to being purely a golfer.”
His next start comes in two weeks at the final WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, which he skipped last year in favor of playing the Valero Texas Open, the event preceding the Masters. He missed the cut at Valero and then finished T-2 at Augusta National Golf Club thanks to a final-round 64.
The match play, in Austin, Texas, will be just his fourth start of the year. All have been in the tour’s elevated big-purse events. If he’s a bit tired, it’s not from too much golf.