JERSEY CITY, NJ – If Rory McIlroy played craps in Atlantic City, he would be on a roll this week. Unfortunately, he’s golfing a few hours further north at Liberty National, where the frequent 6s aren’t so nice to see.
In Saturday’s third round at the Northern Trust, McIlroy signed for a 66 and a 6-under total, which left him six strokes behind overnight leader Jon Rahm. There was also a 6 he carded on the par-5 eighth hole to go along with one on the par-5 sixth hole on Thursday. Sandwiched between them was a triple bogey 6 at the par-3 11th on Friday. He is a brave mathematician who would remind McIlroy that 6 is the smallest perfect number.
“Just a few mistakes too many,” McIlroy said of his performance in this first of three FedEx Cup playoff events. “That was really the difference. I putt well these last days and I made enough birdies. I think I made 16 birdies for the week.
McIlroy ranks among the best in the business in Strokes Gained Putting through three rounds, but his full swing doesn’t prove as reliable, although he has recorded positive shots gained off the tee in every round, none better than Saturday. “I don’t feel like I drove the ball that badly,” he said. “I hit some destructive approach shots yesterday which cost me a bit.”
More than a little, in fact. The world No. 15 scouted the pitch nearly five shots with his irons on Friday, a day in which he hit just eight greens and was forced to rely on his scramble (eight of 10) to card a 70 which helped him make the cut on the number. His reward was an early start of the weekend, with the prospect of a 48-hour wait to return as Tropical Storm Henri pushed the final lap from Sunday to Monday.
McIlroy attributed his insurmountable distance from the leaders to two things: slow starts and bad par-5s. In his first two rounds, the four-time major winner went over par on his first nine holes before falling back. On Saturday he went 2 under and would have been even better if he hadn’t gotten that 6 in the eighth.
“I got off to a better start today obviously and still haven’t played par 5s well. I played par 5s at even par for the week,” he said. “Play them a little better and the score suddenly goes from, wherever I am, 6 under, to double digits, at least, and you’re in tournament golf.” (His par-3 score for the week is +4, almost entirely due to that nasty Friday triple.)
The man McIlroy was watching in the leaderboard when he finished, Rahm, played the par 5-5 under for two days. Cam Smith, who took the lead later in the day, had 7 under on those holes, while even bottom-ranked player Brian Harman outscored McIlroy in the par-5 score. Through nine trips around the long holes, McIlroy’s record shows two birdies, two bogeys, five pars.
And it could have been even worse. On the sixth hole in the third round, McIlroy found the water with his 206-yard approach but saved the par. “Actually, I’m going to lie on par 5s,” he said after his game. “I think I do best when I lay down on par 5s. Every time I try to make one, I do at best, a par.
This is something of an exaggeration. This season, McIlroy birdied 52.8% of his par-5s, seventh-best on the PGA Tour. However, his 5-point scoring average ranks T-38th, also suggesting a handful of bogeys.
“I did that a lot in 2014. I would put it in position on the fairway and I would think of 3, and I would do 5 or 6,” he said. . So it’s almost like you’re not too greedy, play for your 4.”
Lying on the longer holes seems a curious consideration for a player who ranks second in driving distance on the Tour. The only player longer than McIlroy – Bryson DeChambeau – is known to be aggressive. No one goes to the green anymore, but he and McIlroy have nearly identical success rates, birdie-or-better about 60% of the time. DeChambeau is 125 under on 176 attempts, McIlroy is 94 under on 154 tries.
The sloppy bogeys and not the many birdies seem to be what McIlroy is focusing on, and it’s a problem that the stats suggest could be better solved with short game work than a new strategy for the long holes: it does not rank in the top 100 in scrambling from any distance under 30 yards.
“The problem is also that some of the complex greens are on par 5s, especially because it’s a par 5 green, you miss it on the wrong side and it’s really difficult,” McIlroy added, then that he was preparing. return to his Manhattan hotel to wait out the storm.
He will have one more day at Liberty National to test his posing theory, and nearly two full days to think it over before he does.