NORTON, Mass.—Will the real Rory McIlroy please stand up?
It’s been an up-and-down couple of years for the man known simply as Rors. It has been two years since his last major championship, the 2014 PGA Championship in the darkness at Valhalla, and 15 months since his last PGA Tour victory in Charlotte. There have been stops and starts along the way since. He sizzles, he fizzles.
Take his play in the majors. He was fifth at the British Open and 10th at the Masters but missed the cut at the U.S. Open and PGA. He managed three other fourth-place finishes at the Memorial, Wells Fargo and Dell World Match Play. It’s been a hit-or-miss season.
McIlroy is almost having a great week again here at the Deutsche Bank Championship. He has played his last 33 holes in eight under par. That’s impressive.
But about those first three holes, uh, he was four over par. And it could’ve been worse. McIlroy holed a 15-foot putt for triple bogey on his third hole, a stroke he thinks helped him turn the corner.
"It was probably the best putt I’ve holed in a couple of weeks," McIlroy said. "I was four over through three yesterday and to walk off the course today at four under for the tournament, it was nice. I’ve made a good comeback."
He threw down seven birdies Saturday to shoot 67 and at least get on the same page as the leaders. He has been working on his putting with Phil Kenyon and it’s still a work in progress. McIlroy tweaked his grip before the second round, trying to get the club positioned so he was gripping it a little more with his fingers in an effort to get more feel. He needed only 25 putts in the second round.
"We’re just trying to make everything simpler," McIlroy said. "There were a lot of moving parts in my stroke. I could get into specifics about hinging it on the way back and de-lofting it and holding it on the way through. There’s a lot going on but we’re really just trying to simplify the motion. So I can get it going on a good arc and keep the face square at impact. If you do that, you have a good chance to hole putts."
His timing couldn’t be better. There’s never a better time than September to start playing well. This is the second leg of the FedEx Cup with its $10 million prize and, perhaps more important, the Ryder Cup in its wake. McIlroy is Europe’s defacto leader. He was the No. 1 player in the world long enough that no one expected he would ever drop off that perch. He did, he’s been inconsistent and now, if his Saturday putting form takes hold, look out.
"My caddie said to me today, 'Now we feel like we can shoot a low score,'" McIlroy said. "Where I’ve been shooting even par or one or two under, now if I can start holing putts and get on a run, I can see 63, 64, 65, which I wasn’t seeing. That part is nice. Today was very encouraging, it really was."
His putting was more encouraging than the weather forecast near Boston. The remnants of Hurricane Hermine are drifting north along the East Coast and is scheduled to arrive at TPC Boston Monday for the tournament’s final round. Storm tracking is an inexact science. If the storm moves out into the Atlantic Ocean just a little bit, it could be a mere inconvenience.
If it keeps going north and plows into Boston, it could be a problem. A Tuesday finish is not desirable when the BMW Championship, the next FedEx Cup leg, starts Thursday near Indianapolis.
"I wouldn’t like to turn this into a 54-hole event because I’m five or six shots out of the lead and that’s tough to make up over 18 holes," McIlroy said. "I’d be more confident I could do that over 36 holes. The weather looks fine tomorrow but Monday doesn’t look great. I’ll just try to shoot a good one Sunday. I could play 36 holes tomorrow but even if we have to go into Tuesday, it’s not a big deal. I’d rather see a 72-hole tournament than a 54."
McIlroy flashed a grin and added, "It’s good preparation for the Ryder Cup. We play a couple of 36-hole days there."