SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — O.K., seriously: What’s up with Rory?
It’s been 48 hours of surprises at this 43rd Ryder Cup, headlined by the ease with which the U.S. has seized an 11–5 lead and set themselves up to coast to the Cup on Sunday afternoon. But the most perplexing individual performance belongs to Rory McIlroy, who since 2010 has been the heartbeat of the European team. This week the heartbeat has flatlined. Rory is out of it. The European team is out of it. This Ryder Cup has turned into the Lashing at the Lake.*
(*We are test-driving this marketing campaign and humbly submit it here for T-shirt consideration.)
McIlroy has flashed all sorts of brilliance in his Ryder Cup career, but this week is going to leave a mark. On Friday McIlroy lost two matches without even reaching the 16th hole. His desolation continued Saturday. After sitting out the morning’s foursomes session—the first benching of his Ryder Cup career—McIlroy reunited with Ian Poulter to take on Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa in the four-balls anchor match. With the Europeans trailing by six points heading in, McIlroy’s match was a must-get for Europe.
But for the second straight day, McIlroy was not able to muster anything positive. Iron shots fell short and right. Putts failed to drop. Poulter, to his credit, was game. He poured in a long birdie putt on 1 for halve and canned a 28-footer on 5 to square the match.
On the ninth hole McIlroy missed another green with an iron. A European radio broadcaster nearby quipped into his microphone, “Another missed green, another moment of misery for McIlroy.” McIlroy has played so poorly for so long this week, broadcasters have had time to groove their alliteration. Booze-fueled American fans flanking the rope lines have been far less clever, but they’ve been relentless. They were all over Rors Saturday afternoon.
“Hey Rory, how was the bench this morning?” yelled one idiot on the 10th hole.
“Don’t let anyone down, Rory!” said a numbskull on 11.
“Oh-and-three, Rory!” screamed a moron on 15.
When Morikawa canned a 20-footer for birdie on that 15th hole, McIlroy was the last man standing with a 12-footer for birdie to extend the match. It missed on the low side. Each of McIlroy’s three matches has ended on the 15th hole. When that last putt slid by, McIlroy rubbed his chin in disbelief.
“Look, DJ and Collin are a good team and they played very, very well,” McIlroy said afterward. “Even though we tried to throw a bit at them at the back nine, they always seemed to answer it. Collin closed the match out with two really good birdies on 14 and 15.”
So maybe he’s surprised by what’s happening. Or, maybe he saw it coming. In March McIlroy admitted that he’d made some swing tweaks in a quest for more power that did not pay off. A couple weeks later he began working with Pete Cowen, the renowned British swing guru. McIlroy's ensuing season was hardly vintage, but it wasn’t shabby. At the majors:
Masters: MC (He continues to be star-crossed in Augusta)
PGA Champ: T49
U.S. Open: 7th
British Open: 46th
He won the Wells Fargo in June at Quail Hollow, one of his honey tracks, and he’s notched seven top 10s dating back to the ’20 U.S. Open. He’s made 18 of his last 21 PGA Tour cuts. Those number aren’t a cry for help, but the Ryder Cup can lay bare the flaws in a man’s golf game, and McIlroy's game is clearly diminished. More than anything, he seems dead tired.
“Obviously disappointing,” McIlroy said Saturday evening. “Disappointing not to contribute a point for the team yet. So hopefully just go out tomorrow and try my best to get a point, and hopefully we can rally and at last give them something to maybe sweat about tomorrow in the middle of the afternoon.”
Maybe he just needs a break. One more day and he’ll finally get one.