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Golf nerd stuff

What did Tiger Woods spot in Rory McIlroy's golf swing?

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Mike Ehrmann

Golfers have good holes and bad holes, nice runs and annoying stretches.

Rory McIlroy, who has missed the cut at the Players, Masters, and could only muster a T-47 at the Wells Fargo, is currently mired in the latter.

It's Rory's ball striking that has been looking a little sketchy recently. Not the good shots—those are never the issue with—but rather, the misses. McIlroy ranks just 193rd in driving accuracy so far this season and, more alarmingly, has dropped from 12th to 172nd in greens In regulation.

But he's been working on it.

McIlroy's coach, Michael Bannon, has spent the past week in Florida, and Golf Channel's Eamon Lynch revealed an even more interesting nugget: that Tiger Woods texted Rory saying he spotted an issue in his swing, and McIlroy went over to his house to work it out.

What did Tiger tell him? We don’t know for sure. Rumor has it was something to do with his setup and alignment, which itself was perhaps a compensation based on some golf swing stuff Rory has been working through. He went pretty deep on it during his press conference on Tuesday ahead of the 2023 PGA Championship, and for the golf nerd, it made for some fascinating reading.

Here are a couple swings of McIlroy we can use for comparison. The swing on the left is from the 2023 Waste Management that he push-sliced out of bounds to the right. The other is a high draw down the middle of the fairway from his T-5 at the 2022 U.S. Open.

No, the camera angles on these aren’t perfect, but they’re good enough to help put some pictures to help us understand the words Rory is saying.

Let’s dive in.

Every golfer, whether you’re a tour player or a high handicapper, generally has the same few problems that keep arising in their golf swing. Rory says the same is true for him.

“I'm certainly not a rookie at this point,” he says. “I know what my tendencies are and I know what the feelings are to try to sort of get it back on a good path.”

Rory, by his own admission, says his tendency is for the direction of his swing to move too far from in-to-out, to the right. The club gets “stuck” behind him on the downswing, and he has to rely on some fine timing with his hands to avoid hitting blocks out to the right or high hooks that miss left.

These issues start on the backswing, McIlroy says.

On his takeaway, Rory says he’ll tend to roll the clubface inside and open, which you can see him doing on the left. On the right, the clubface has rotated less.

“Club face was getting a bit too open on the way back,” he says. “[I’ve been working on] keeping a little bit more strength in the club face, feel a little bit more squareness throughout the swing.”

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When this happens, Rory says it leads to his club “getting a little bit out of position at the top.” Specifically, he’ll tend to land the club in an across-the-line position (which means the club is pointing to his right at the top of the backswing).

The issue with the club getting “out of position,” as Rory says, is that it starts a “sequence of events” that makes hitting straight shots difficult.

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Perhaps most common is McIlroy getting his club and arms too far behind his body. And just as his club and arms rolled open on the way back, now he has to roll them closed during the milliseconds through the ball.

“I was really struggling to square it on the way down, throwing my hands on it,” he says. “With the face coming down so open on the way down and having to try to close it so quickly to get it squared up, you're talking timing and fractions of seconds between the ball going 20 yards right or it going 20 yards left."

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It’s basically impossible to see with the naked eye, but you can see here that even though his shot on the right sliced to the right, the clubface is more closed than his high draw swing on the left. It comes down to milliseconds, and even for the best players in the world, that’s hard to repeat."

But Rory is fixing it. It’s not a major issue; no major engine flaws, just some tweaks required. Get them right, and he could be driving home with a trophy at the end of it.