Putting guru Brad Faxon has no doubt that Rory McIlroy will be back winning tournaments soon, with a happy hunting ground first up at this week’s Players Championship.
McIlroy burst to the front at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational with an opening 65 before succumbing to conditions with a pair of damaging 76s in a disappointing weekend and recording a top-20 finish.
The four-time Major winner has found a level of consistency that most golfers would crave in their careers but Faxon, who works closely with McIlroy on his putting, accepts the world number 6 is wanting titles, despite McIlroy recording top-20 finishes in each of his worldwide starts since August.
“He got off to a great start at Bay Hill last week to follow a top-10 at Riviera, but top-10s aren’t enough for McIlroy,” Faxon told Sky Sports ahead of The Players where McIlroy was a champion in 2019.
“In his mind, he played the worst tournament ever last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and still finished tied-13th!
“I know he can go back to some great memories from his 2019 win at Sawgrass, with how well he hit the ball and well he putted that week. He also has the two victories last year, which were won differently to how he usually wins.
“Last year’s titles were both won with great putting, great short game and great attitude and mindset, which is exactly what you will need here. There is no player that is going to hit it on every green and two putt each, you’re going to have to hit some shots which might be frightening to do, so I think that can help McIlroy.
“A lot of his consistency has to do with going back to his old coach, Michael Bannon, who is someone he has shared everything in his life with really, on and off the course. McIlroy has had some great putting weeks and he is much more confident in his putting stroke, which is as technically sound as I have ever seen.”
With the weather already wet as predicted in Florida, and the first round suffering heavy delays due to lightning, TPC Sawgrass is as soft as players will get it, and with placing in operation for round one at least, it could just play into the likes of McIlroy’s hands.
Whoever is to triumph, however, the juicy rough at Sawgrass isn’t too dissimilar to last week at Bay Hill, so whatever about the strides McIlroy’s taken with his flat stick, the biggest stick in his bag must behave too if he wants to be in contention come Sunday.
“The forecast for the next three days is dreadful, so there’s going to be some delays and some slow play,” Faxon said. “It’s most likely players won’t finish their rounds each day because there isn’t much daylight here.
“The course conditions earlier this week weren’t very firm to begin with and coming off of Bay Hill, where it was so fast, firm and windy, it’ll be a big adjustment for the players to hit a shot that lands on the green and stops immediately. Then, later in the week, they might have to contend with spinning the ball too much.
“I asked a few players how the rough was compared to last week at Bay Hill which was incredibly difficult, and they said it’s every bit as difficult. If players miss the fairway they’re going to have a really hard time getting the ball on the green.
“The forecast may be of benefit to players that have played here a few times, where they have seen the wind coming out of the different direction, as they will know that can completely change the game plan and how they have to deal with that.”