Which Rory will be the story this week?
The Rory McIlroy who was dominant during the front nine of his season, wracking up top-5 finishes in seven consecutive tournaments, including a victory in the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions, en route to his return to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings?
Or the Rory McIlroy who has struggled on his back nine of the season after golf returned from a 13-week COVID-19 break, posting zero top-10s in his last six starts, with a tie for 11th in The Travelers Championship his only top-30 result?
The reigning FedEx Cup champion is obviously hoping for the former as the lucrative postseason begins Thursday with the Northern Trust at TPC Boston.
“The last few weeks haven’t really been what I’ve wanted from a golf standpoint on the course and also results-wise, and even just sort of practice-wise and technique-wise, hasn’t really been where I’ve wanted it to be,” McIlroy told reporters Wednesday. “I sound like a broken record. I saw some good signs last week in practice, and it’s just a matter of it translating out into the competitive arena.”
If the world No. 3 is to reverse his lost in translation ways of late, however, he said he needs an attitude adjustment. During his dull stretch, McIlroy, 31, has talked about losing focus on the golf course and struggling to stay motivated.
But last week, he heard a quote he hopes will change things: Don’t let your golf influence your attitude; let your attitude influence your golf.
“I’ve been letting my golf influence my attitude on the course instead of the other way around, because if you go out there with a good attitude, that will hopefully help,” said McIlroy, who starts the playoffs in eighth place as he tries to become the first three-time winner of the FedEx Cup. “I’ve sort of got those a little crossed the last few weeks. I think going out there with a bit of a better attitude, not being as reactive to misses or certain shots, will definitely be better for me going forward as we enter this big stretch of golf.
“Our mind is way more powerful than really anything else. If you can utilize that the right way, it’s inevitably going to help your game on the course.”
What might help is the venue. McIlroy won the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston in 2012 and again in 2016, when he won his first FedEx Cup title. But while he has an affinity for the course, he knows it won’t matter if he doesn’t get his attitude in the right place and his wedge game, putting and driving on track.
In the PGA Championship in his last start two weeks ago at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, where he won the WGC-Match Play Championship in 2015, his love for the course offered little help as he never contended and tied for 33rd, extending his winless streak in majors to 20 since winning his fourth major in the 2014 PGA Championship.
“The most important thing is executing the shots, and my execution over the last few weeks hasn’t been as good as it’s needed to be, and it doesn’t matter how good you’ve played on a certain golf course before,” said McIlroy. “If you’re not hitting the shots the way you want, then it’s not going to happen.
“You’re not going to have a chance.”
If history is an indicator, however, McIlroy will have a chance this week and beyond. He has excelled in the playoffs as he and Tiger Woods are the only two-time winners of the FedEx Cup. His five victories in the playoffs are the most won by anyone, with Woods and Dustin Johnson second at four apiece.
And McIlroy is the all-time money earner in the playoffs, with $40.5 million in prize money and bonuses.
“The playoffs are always an exciting time of the year and exciting stage of the season,” he said. “This is usually a time of year where I’ve historically played pretty well, and Boston’s a place and a golf course where I’ve got some nice history, so hopefully that can ignite something for me this week and I can get on a good little run of golf coming up.”