Rory McIlroy missed an opportunity at the Honda Classic Sunday in his new hometown of Orlando, FL. In the first star-studded field of the PGA season, McIlroy swung and missed. After leading for all three rounds of most of the final round yesterday, he fell apart, shooting a four over par 74 and lost in a sudden-death playoff to Russell Henley.
Who is Russell Henley? Exactly. The bigger question now is, who is Rory McIlroy? Or, who is McIlroy going to be? This was a great chance for McIlroy to assert himself as the alpha dog on the PGA tour. Phil Mickelson missed the cut. Tiger Woods should have missed the cut and then bowed out Sunday with a back injury after going five over par on the first 13 holes.
It was all set up for him. McIlroy was about to firmly plant himself as the best player in the world, and then he fell apart. As if almost on cue, as Mickelson and Woods faded away, so too did McIlroy and his game. He was errant off the tee, timid around the green and generally sloppy overall.
Everyone has these kinds of days on the golf course. Ask Tiger Woods. Here is another question to ask Woods, though. How do you close out tournaments? Because Woods knows how to finish, and McIlroy had better learn it. This was the wrong day for this to happen. McIlroy missed an opportunity here. A big one. And he knows it.
The Scotsman is supposed to be back this year after and up until yesterday, no one would have argued that. He seemingly left behind the misery of 2013, when he switched agents and clubs and did not win one tournament. Nor did he even contend at the majors.
Fair or not, McIlroy will be compared to Woods for the rest of his career. He was the next great player after Woods and while he will never win 14 majors like Woods, he can be number one in the world. He can be dominant. He can contend at most of the majors. But he cannot do it with days like yesterday especially on his home course.
This is going to leave a bad taste in McIlroy’s mouth for awhile. The question now becomes what does he do with it? He and Mickelson will lead another field of the game’s best players this week at Doral. This is one of the biggest tournaments of the PGA season that is not a major.
So it is a good time for McIlroy to bounce back. The Masters is less than six weeks away now as he and his biggest rivals gear up for the first major of the 2014 season. Coincidentally, The Masters is the same place McIlroy last blew a lead on the final day. In 2011, he had a four-shot lead starting the final round at Augusta and then posted an 80. He finished out of the top 10 and was universally questioned about his fortitude. Then he went out and won the U.S. open by eight strokes.
He will have to do the same now. McIlroy missed an opportunity yesterday he will not soon forget. The question now is whether he learns from it like he did in 2011.
Commentary by Mick Varner