Rory McIlroy now has just a little over two weeks to eradicate the hurtful mistakes and rediscover his winning form ahead of the rescheduled start to the Masters at Augusta National.
McIlroy wound-up his inside-the-ropes preparations for the long-awaited return of the Masters posting a final round 66 to share 17th place in the ZoZo Championship in California.
American and new World No. 9 Patrick Cantlay stormed through the field on the back of a final round 65 to win by a stroke for his third PGA Tour title.
McIlroy had also muscled his way up the Sherwood board on day four and was inside the top-10 before a third mishap in four days over the closing few holes of the Sherwood course.
He had shown his frustration on day one in snapping a wedge after a poor third shot into the last and then on Saturday, McIlroy was seven-under but made a mess of the last in taking a double-bogey.
The four-time Major winner was cruising on Sunday having rattled off four birdies in succession from his 10th and then birdied 15, a run that included superbly one-putting holes 10 to 15 to be seven-under.
But in playing 16, he sent his second shot well right before it cannoned off a tree and back into water to take bogey.
He said: “Look, the game’s there, hitting plenty of good shots, giving myself plenty of chances.
“Obviously it’s a pretty easy golf course as the scores suggest this week, but I felt like I played pretty good the last three days.
“So, the game is definitely feeling better more than it did when I headed out here.
Looking back on his Zozo week, McIlroy managed 29 birdies over the four days but he spoiled any victory hopes with eight bogeys and three damaging double-bogeys.
He said: “I kept saying to Harry (Diamond – caddie) every time I made a birdie, “23, 24, 25.” He said, “That’s not a good thing. You’re 20th in the tournament and you made so many birdies.”
“So, that was just a running joke for the week. You know, if I can keep making that many birdies every tournament, sooner or later I’m going to get rid of the bad stuff and I’m going to be right there.
“I just need to limit the mistakes more than anything else.
“I don’t think it’s anything technical, but yeah, mostly just I’ve sort of compounded errors this week a little bit, and last week as well.
“I had a really bad run at the end of the tournament to go from wherever I was in the top-10 to outside the top-20.
“So yeah, it’s basically that, when I get out of position. Even today I hit that — I didn’t feel I hit that bad a shot on 16, hits the tree, comes back into the hazard.
“I’m trying to be super cute to just land it on the green, get it close so I could save par instead of just saying to myself give yourself a putt from 10 or 12 feet.
“I’m trying to be really almost just too perfect and I’m maybe just being a touch aggressive when I get myself out of position.
“So, I just taking my medicine a little bit more when I do. That was sort of the story of the week.
“It would have been nice to hole that birdie putt at the last, I would have made 30 birdies for the week. So, I made 29, which is more than enough to win golf tournaments, I just need to cut out the mistakes”.
McIlroy is intending to head to Augusta in the coming days and get a feel for the course in Autumn conditions and it will mean also packing the Nike logo hoodie he wore last Sunday ala Tyrrell Hatton who controversially donned one in capturing the recent BMW PGA Championship.
And having spoken ahead of the Zozo of his delight in once staying overnight at Augusta and visiting the ‘members only’ cellar selection of rather inexpensive wines, McIlroy is now considering doing the same.
He said: “I think I will go up to Augusta a couple of times. I might go up once and spend a night and play a couple of days or maybe go up a couple separate times.”
And McIlroy’s 12th appearance at Augusta National will be his last tour event anywhere until the January 28th starting Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines near San Diego.
He said: “I’m not playing Houston so Augusta’s my next one and I’ll take a couple of months off after that and come back to Torrey.”
It will also mean, for a first time in his 13-year pro career, that McIlroy will not have played on European soil nor contested one regular European Tour event.
McIlroy had remarked last July: “I don’t know if I want to travel, I don’t know if I want to be exposed to more things and more people.”
His decision is clearly understandable given the worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic and in also now becoming a father.
UPDATED IRISH WORLD RANKINGS
No. 5 – Rory McIlroy (unchanged)
No. 31 – Shane Lowry (unchanged)
No. 65 – Graeme McDowell (unchanged)
No. 329 – Padraig Harrington (Up 3 spots)
No. 354 – Jonathan Caldwell (Up 89 spots)
No. 368 – Cormac Sharvin (Down 6 spots)
No. 640 – Paul Dunne (unchanged)