Few will be happier than McIlroy to see the back of the west coast swing

Mark McGowan

Rory McIlroy (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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It’s fair to say that Rory McIlroy hasn’t exactly lit up the PGA Tour in the two events he’s teed-it-up in since starting his season in style with a runner-up and a win in two events in Dubai back in January.

Such are the standards that we hold McIlroy to, that anything less than a top-five or top-10 finish are ‘crisis talk’ inducing, but when you delve into the detail a little further, it should really come as little surprise given his history on the PGA Tour’s west coast swing.

McIlroy was a four-time major champion and winner of 15 tournaments across both the PGA and European Tours before he’d ever competed in one of the events held in the western states in the early part of the year, always opting to start his season in the Middle East before travelling across the Atlantic once the Tour moved to the south east.

Prior to that, the only times he’d ever played competitively as a pro in California were when he played the ‘hit and giggle’ now called the Hero World Challenge twice, played in the Frys.com Open in Napa in September 2015 after missing much of the business end of the season including a chance to defend his Open Championship after doing ankle-ligament damage, missed the cut at the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach and the 2012 US Open at Oympic, and won the 2015 WGC Matchplay the one year it was held at Harding Park in San Francisco.

So with just six competitive starts in the Golden State by the start of 2016, it’s fair to assume that he wasn’t the biggest fan. Since then, he’s played in 13 PGA Tour events and four major championships, making it one win in 26 starts and 0-for-25 in strokeplay events.

Yes, he’s come close, most notably in last year’s US Open at L.A. Country Club, but LACC and Harding Park both have one thing in common, they don’t have Poa Annua greens. Riviera, Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach, almost all of the courses on the west coast swing do. It might seem a little trivial to say that the grass type is such a major factor when we’re talking about one of the best golfers on the planet, but the margins are incredibly fine at the sharp point, and being a little uncomfortable on the greens can have reverberations through your entire game.

Standing with an iron in hand thinking that you have to put it stone dead in order to make birdie is not a good mindset to be in and will inevitably lead to bigger misses than if you’d be happy knocking it to 15 or 20 feet. Now, I’m not trying to claim that I’m privy to McIlroy’s inner thoughts, that’s merely an observation gathered through years of watching him play his best stuff on courses with either Bentgrass or Bermuda putting surfaces.

In a week’s time, he’s back in action at the Cognizant Classic at PGA National in West Palm Beach, Florida. Formerly called the Honda Classic, he’s won there, as he has at Bay Hill, at Sawgrass, at Quail Hollow in North Carolina, at Congaree in South Carolina at East Lake in Georgia, all courses on or near the east coast, and all courses that have Bermuda Grass greens. Further north, he’s won on Bentgrass at TPC Boston, Firestone and Crooked Stick. Meanwhile, the only PGA tournament he’s ever won on Poa Annua was the 2019 Canadian Open at Hamilton.

This doesn’t mean that he’s suddenly going to be firing on all cylinders as soon as he’s back across the panhandle, but he’s back in his comfort zone, back on his preferred surfaces, and back on happy hunting ground.

If we get through the Players Championship and there’s been no increase in fortunes, maybe then it’ll be time to start sounding the alarm bells.

But it’s still one win in four 2024 starts. That’s not bad!

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