Rory McIlroy is this week’s host at the Irish Open. The tournament benefits his foundation and naturally you’d expect he’d want to play really well at the Ballyliffin Golf Club.
Thursday afternoon was picture-perfect there on the northwest coast of Northern Ireland and although Ballyliffin is basically in the middle of nowhere, the crowds were big, ready to watch Rory do his thing on the Glashedy Links.
His three-wood off the first tee was perfect, huge, past 300 yards, dead-center. He stuck a short wedge to eight-feet then pulled that first birdie putt left of the hole.
At the second, another perfect drive, another perfect second, this one seven-feet from the hole. Pulled it left.
At the par five fourth, at 470 yards, just a long par four for McIlory, he hit a mid-iron to seven feet for eagle. Surely he’d make three. Missed left, tapped in and was one-under through four, should have easily been four-under. World class players make those birdie putts.
At the par three fifth he left himself with a six-footer for par. Missed where? You guessed it, lipped out left.
Anyone out there see a pattern to all of this?
With very little wind, plenty of sun and warm temperatures, all Rory could muster was a two-under par 70, which left him three back of first round leader Ryan Fox of New Zealand.
At age 29, it’s become painfully obvious that putting has become McIlroy’s Achilles Heel. He putts like a pig.
What’s more puzzling is that it certainly doesn’t seem to bother him one lick.
McIlroy won the U.S. Open in 2011, the PGA in 2012 then the Open Championship and a second PGA in 2014. Since 2014 — no majors.
And that doesn’t seem to bother him one lick either.
Rory basically owned up to that earlier this week before the start of the Irish Open.
Here’s Rory’s take on his world today:
“Nothing is going to change in my life whether I win a major or not. I’d be disappointed if I didn’t but I don’t panic. It doesn’t keep me up at night. Look, if I didn’t win another major for the rest of my career, nothing is going to change in my life whether I win one or not but obviously I don’t feel like I’ll have fulfilled my potential. But at the same time, you know, there’s other things in my life that are more important than golf — I’d be disappointed but again, it’s not going to change things.”
There’s perhaps a big reason why Rory seems so “what me worry” when it comes to his career. The kid is really, really rich.
McIlroy turned pro in 2007 and since then he’s racked up $209 million in earnings, counting on and off the course income. Even with the brutal 52 percent tax bracket for the big hitters in the U.K., he still has a net worth pushing well past $63 million.
Annually, Rory takes home, before taxes, $34 million in endorsement income. He has long-term deals with Nike and TaylorMade, so he get paid big bucks no matter what — win or lose.
So maybe you have to ask if Rory, like a lot of other young players, may be too wealthy to be all that motivated.
It was never a problem for Tiger Woods, who at Rory’s age declared: “Second place sucks.”
As for Rory, he’s not losing any sleep over that nasty putter of his. Maybe he should.
Maybe another problem is that he knows there are always more majors down the road.
“I’ve got two more chances this year to hopefully play myself into contention,” he said of the upcoming Open Championship at Carnoustie then the PGA at Bellerive in August.
“That was my goal, to give myself a chance and to put myself in position to see how I fare.”
We saw how he fared at Augusta when opportunity knocked with that seven-footer for eagle at the second on Sunday.
We saw the 80-70 at the U.S. Open that sent him packing early.
Then we saw that same old pattern Thursday at Ballyliffin.
Million dollar golf shots and a 25-cent putting stroke.
Doesn’t matter, obviously.
Rory can always seek solace in the comfort of his personal financial statement.