Rory McIlroy badly needs ‘spark’

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Before Rory McIlroy left Bay Hill on Sunday evening, fresh off shooting a final-round 75 that left him going the wrong way in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he sounded like someone who was on his way to a therapist’s couch.

“I don’t know what the word is or how to describe it, but just a little dejected,” McIlroy said Sunday after tying for 10th, lowlighted by a double-bogey 7 on the par-6, where he hit two balls into the lake. “I need something, I need a spark, I need something and I just don’t seem to have it.”

McIlroy, the 2019 Players Championship winner, is the de facto defending champion this week at TPC Sawgrass since last year’s event was canceled after one round because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

McIlroy is in a weird place. He’s not playing poor golf. But he’s not winning. His last win came at the HSBC in November of 2019. That was one of four wins he had in 2019. He’s contended since, but hasn’t finished.

This is what had McIlroy depressed after going backward on the leaderboard Sunday.

“I think it was just me walking off the course not having my best day and I guess sort of venting a little bit to whoever was there at the time,’’ McIlroy explained Tuesday about his grim post-round outlook from Bay Hill. “Look, I did feel dejected. I felt disappointed. It’s funny, I’d almost feel better if my game was worse, but it’s the inconsistency of I shot 66 on Thursday and thought, ‘I’ve got it, I feel really good,’ and then I didn’t quite have it. The ups and downs are just a little too much.

“I think that’s where I’m sort of struggling to come to terms with it and sort of trying to figure out what I need to do because the good stuff is there,’’ he went on. “I’ll always be able to figure it out and find a way. But it’s when it goes slightly off, how do you manage that?

Players Championship 2021 Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy is looking for a “spark” at the 2021 Players Championship.
Getty Images

“I feel like over the last few years, I’ve been really good at when my game hasn’t been fully there still be able to shoot 69, 70, still being able to get it under par, where I feel like the last few weeks when it hasn’t felt quite right. I’m sort of treading water and I’m just trying to shoot even-par. That was sort of what it felt like last week.

“I’m just trying to get the bad golf a little better because the good golf is always there and the good shots will always be in there. It’s just when you’re not feeling quite 100 percent, that’s when you need to just be able to manage it a little better, and I just haven’t managed it well over the last few weeks.”

Perhaps returning to Sawgrass as the so-called defending champion will give McIlroy that “spark” he’s seeking.

“It’s good to be back,” he said. “It’s nice, like I get another bite at the cherry.”

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