The next person who weighs in retroactively about Rory McIlroy's decision to move from Titleist to Nike Golf at the start of 2013 is going to be punched in the mouth. And if that's Rory himself, then he'll finally have a real toothache.
In a somewhat shocking development, McIlroy missed the cut at the Irish Open last Friday at Carton House. A day after opening with 2-over 74, McIlroy mentioned he was "lost," talking specifically about his mechanics. The next day, just before he slammed his trunk for a three-week vacation ahead of the Open Championship, McIlroy lamented he wouldn't be able to play a tournament before teeing it up at Muirfield because of multiple commitments, including to Nike.
“I am spending more time with Nike’s technical staff as this was a new driver I had in the bag this week, but it still wasn’t 100 percent what I want,” McIlroy said.
“So I am testing with them again next week. I am still confident in my ability to hit the golf ball and hit good shots, but then confidence comes from hitting good shots and seeing the ball go in the hole, and shooting good rounds and posting good results.”
And that set off headlines.
"Rory struggling with Nike equipment."
"Rory still searching for answers with Nike."
The gist? Because McIlroy said he's working with Nike engineers on developing the perfect driver for him, then that clearly means he's struggling with the transition away from Titleist.
And then out trotted Nick Faldo, a staffer for Nike competitor TaylorMade, on Tuesday to tell everyone just how right he was when he cautioned McIlroy about the road ahead.
“Rory very simply messed with a winning formula,” Faldo said ahead of The Greenbrier Classic. “He had an equipment company he went from rookie of the year to world No. 1 and...thought he could start again. As I said from Day 1, I tweeted right away when it was announced, this is a dangerous move.”
Almost simultaneously, Paul Casey, Nike Golf staffer and the guy who actually won the Irish Open for his first win since 2011, comes out in defense of the equipment.
"You know, it really frustrates me when I read negative press about Nike and their equipment," Casey said. "They are a legitimate golf brand, legitimate golf company, and sure, people don't necessarily see what I see behind the scenes with the R&D and the personnel that are making fantastic golf products. It's right up there, I would put sort of three or four other manufacturers up there in the same ballpark."
For everyone who wants to comment on the 14 clubs in McIlroy's bag, pay some attention to a couple of elder Irish statesmen that have seen the Ulsterman blossom into a two-time major winner. In one fashion or another, both three-time major winner Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley recently said they see Phil Mickelson as a more apt comparison for McIlroy than fellow Nike staffer Tiger Woods.
Then look at the facts. In two of his last three seasons, McIlroy has started and finished strong, but fared poorly in May and June. He's prone to lulls in the middle of the year, which just so happens to be major season, putting the erstwhile No. 1 under more scrutiny for his untimely, seemingly perennial slip.
For those lackluster middle months in 2010 and '12, McIlroy was a Titleist staffer.
If a pair of eagle-eyed Irishmen and the results don't sway your view, then it's time to drag out some statistics.
- 2010: 115th
- 2011: 116th
- 2012: 156th
- 2013: 89th
Wait, he is driving straighter this year (hitting about 4 percent more fairways in total)? Then how well is Rory doing in hitting greens in regulation?
Greens in regulation
- 2010: 120th
- 2011: 28th
- 2012: 60th
- 2013: 13th
So far, Rory is posing four-year bests in finding fairways and greens, including nearly 69 percent of greens in 2012. It doesn't sound like the equipment to me.
Now, how about strokes gained putting?
- 2010: 145th
- 2011: 130th
- 2012: 82nd
- 2013: 128th
We know he's not the best putter in the world. But, look at his birdie average.
- 2010: 121st
- 2011: 40th
- 2012: 1st
- 2013: 13th
With so many birdies compared to his peers per round, wy he isn't winning sounds like a mystery. Fire up the Nike Golf Mystery Bus. Ah, here's a clue.
Proximity of approaches from 125-150 yards
- 2010: 126th (23 feet, 10 inches)
- 2011: 4th (19 feet, 5 inches)
- 2012: 5th (19 feet, 9 inches)
- 2013: 94th (23 feet, 7 inches)
When Rory McIlroy has enjoyed winning at his most prolific pace, he has been putting it closer to the hole in the scoring zone than almost anyone else on the PGA Tour. He's not doing that this year, so despite better driving and approach accuracy, he's not accurate enough with his scoring clubs (wedges, 9-iron) to mask his mediocre putting.
That's the 2013 Wells Fargo Championship and his entire season in a nutshell.