Rory McIlroy in downbeat mood ahead of the US PGA Championship

Rory McIlroy in downbeat mood ahead of latest major tilt at the US PGA Championship… with Northern Irishman fed up talking about golf’s civil war after missing the cut at the Masters and Players Championship

  • McIlroy has missed the cut at the two biggest tournaments of 2023 to date
  • World No 3 has arrived at Oak Hill Country Club with a different mindset 
  • LIV rebels Dustin Johnson and Cameron Smith have enjoyed return to form

It says something about Rory McIlroy’s subdued mood ahead of the season’s second major that his most telling answer prior to the US PGA Championship was also his briefest. One word, to be precise.

It was when he was asked if he was now done with being the traditionalists’ mouthpiece in the civil war against LIV that he simply said: ‘Yes.’

No further explanation was forthcoming and none was needed. All those fiery contributions and insights into golf’s great debate have come at a personal cost, and never has that been clearer than across the past 10 weeks, when he missed cuts at each of the two biggest tournaments of 2023 to date.

That includes The Masters, of course, where he was bullish in his media duties before his latest grand slam bid disappeared in a mind-shredding mess of wild drives and missed putts, triggering an unscheduled three-week break from the game.

The McIlroy that has arrived at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester this week appears to be taking a different tack with his public pronouncements. Still carrying the scar tissue from Augusta, he seemed downbeat at times on Tuesday, and spoke of trying to build a new mindset out of lower expectations and fewer political distractions.

Rory McIlroy has lowered his expectations ahead of the US PGA Championship this week

‘I would rather people be talking about me for me golf rather than stuff I am doing behind the scenes or a press conference,’ he said. ‘I don’t regret anything I have done because I think it will help the next generation of players hopefully.

‘But now the wheels have been set in motion it is time to focus on me and trying to get back to winning ways.’

This being McIlroy, such emotional gymnastics might still add up to that elusive fifth major. In his favour is an East Course redesigned in favour of bigger hitters, but based on his post-Augusta return at Quail Hollow a fortnight ago, where he tied for 47th and struggled with the recurrence of a two-way miss off the tee, he is carrying the vibe of a frustrated golfer hunting for cures.

‘It wasn’t really the performance of Augusta that was hard to get over – it was more the deflation of it and trying to get your mind in the right place to go forward again,’ he said.

‘I think I’m close. I’ve made some good strides even from Quail Hollow. I’m seeing some better things. If I can execute the way that I feel like I can, then I still believe that I’m one of the best players in the world and I can have a chance of winning this week.’

The world No 3 added: ‘I was never so sure that I was going to have a great week at Augusta. Never so sure. And then, you know, that happens.

‘Golf can be an impostor at times and the game can bring you back down to earth pretty quickly. But I think the best way to deal with that is to not let yourself get to that level of expectation so early.

‘If I think back to Augusta, maybe over the last few months as well, my level of acceptance probably hasn’t been where it needs to be. If I work on that, and I do the right things, then I know I’ll start to play some really good golf again pretty quickly.’

McIlroy greets LIV rebel Cameron Smith during a practice round at Oak Hill Country Club

With his talents, a rapid transformation is well within the realms of possibility. 

But with Masters champion Jon Rahm in the form of his life and Scottie Scheffler finishing no lower than 12th in 12 starts since November, it is a brutally tall order. 

It is made harder by the return to form of LIV rebels Dustin Johnson and Cameron Smith, not to mention McIloy’s struggles with his driver, which is so often the club that dictates if he will have a successful week. 

If it is as wayward at Oak Hill as it was at Quail Hollow, The Masters and the Players Championship, then it might take a while longer for him to find his way out of the woods.

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