It never looked like dropping. The penultimate stoke of another frustrating final round of a major was a push/misread from less than 10 feet that never touched the hole and Rory McIlroy signed for a two-over par round of 73.
If we are honest, he never had his “A” game last week, but the fact that without playing his best, he held a share of the lead with a dozen holes to play is testament to the man’s ability, but he’ll still be incredibly frustrated with his failure to mount any kind of sustained challenge on the back nine.
Six missed putts from inside 10 feet, a further two from inside 12, and just one of any considerable length holed is a poor return from one of the game’s top players and saw him rank 60th of the 71 players who made the weekend in strokes gained with the flatstick.
Now, not being savvy enough to figure out where the flaws in his putting stroke lie, I found myself longing for an expert to shed some light on the issue, and who is better qualified than Brad Faxon – McIlroy’s putting coach – who, as luck would have it, was working in the commentary booth for Sky Sports and spent the lions share of the closing round’s broadcast with mic in hand.
So what did the eight-time winner on the PGA Tour have to say about his star pupil’s stroke? Well, nothing really. Barring the odd observational insight based on the result of certain putts, the New Jersey native offered little more than to confirm that he had indeed seen the same thing with his two eyes as we had with ours. I kept waiting on Ewen Murray or whichever other Sky Sports mainstay was sharing mic duties with Faxon to inquire as to what may be doing wrong? Could it be rhythmical? Is it pressure related? Does he tend to over-read putts? Over-hit them? What? Give us something!
The only reason I can think of why a broadcaster like Sky Sports would have such a potentially valuable asset on their books and not utilise him fully is that one of the terms and conditions of Faxon’s employment is that he will not be asked such questions. And if that is indeed the case, then you’d have to wonder what he is actually there for?
This is nothing personal, by the way. He seems like a thoroughly nice guy, and he’s easy on the ear, but he’s clearly got the blinkers on when it comes to McIlroy. On more than one occasion now I’ve heard him talk of Rory’s grinding ability, how he never gives up and gives every shot its due care and attention until the round is over, whereas anybody who’s watched him for a decade plus knows how different his body language becomes when things aren’t going his way and the careless manner in which short putts are often taken. Who can forget the three-putt from three feet at on the 16th at Portrush, accompanied by a rueful smile, that ultimately saw him heartbreakingly miss the cut by a single stroke.
And again on Sunday, Faxon spoke of how Rory is driving the ball better than ever since beginning to work with Pete Cowen. In fairness, I don’t have the privilege to closely scrutinise McIlroy’s range sessions at the Bear’s Club, but I do have strokes-gained data from the PGA Tour and it tells me that Rory is statistically having his worst year relative to the field with the big stick. Even his recent win at Quail Hollow was achieved with a relatively poor driving performance.
Currently, the four-time major winner is eighth in the strokes-gained off-the-tee for the 2021 season, which is hardly terrible, but since joining the Tour as a rookie in 2010, Rory has never been outside the top-six in that category and would normally be found in the top two. That Faxon’s claim came during Rory’s worst driving round of the week where he hit just six of 14 fairways and had negative-strokes gained didn’t help, but it just seemed like an unnecessary claim to make and one that even casual golf fans were unlikely to swallow whole.
Perhaps it’s loyalty to his client that is prompting these assertions, but that would be bias and an unwelcome bedfellow for objective analysis which is what [I assume] he is being paid to do.
Maybe I’m nit-picking, but for both personal and professional reasons, I watch a copious amount of televised golf, and I’ve long felt that golf commentary is fair at best and woeful at worst, and among other zealots, I’m not alone in those thoughts.
But if you’re going to hire a man with access to and inside knowledge of the most captivating player in the game, then maybe we could get some real insight as opposed to throwaway comments and hyperbole.
Is that really too much to ask?