Opinion: Why has Rory McIlroy lost his winning touch?

McIlroy faltered to a 74 at East Lake. Neil Tappin asks why has Rory McIlroy lost his winning touch?

Why has Rory McIlroy lost his winning touch?
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As Tiger Woods wrote a new chapter in the history of the game, Rory McIlroy faltered to a final round 74. Neil Tappin asks why has Rory McIlroy lost his winning touch?

Why has Rory McIlroy lost his winning touch?

As Tiger Woods was busy writing a new chapter in the history of the game by winning the 2018 Tour Championship, Rory McIlroy became the forgotten man in the final pairing at East Lake. Starting the day three behind Woods on a score of -9, a flurry of mistakes on the front nine took him out of contention. Clearly frustrated by his malfunctioning swing, McIlroy relied largely on his short game for a four over-par round of 74.

In many ways, this was a fitting end to a season of near misses for Rory McIlroy. With $4 million won on the PGA Tour alone which included seven top 10s and victory at Bay Hill, the Northern Irishman’s 2018 season could hardly be described as a failure especially when you add a further three top 10s on the European Tour.

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However, for Rory McIlroy, 2018 could have been truly spectacular. Cast your mind back to the Masters and the 29 year-old, was just three shots off the lead heading into the final round at Augusta. His opening tee shot was blasted way right setting the tone for a disappointing 74 that saw him eventually tie for fifth.

This year, heading into the final round, Rory McIlroy has had eight good chances to win but only managed to get over the line once. Of course, not even Tiger Woods in his pomp would have converted all of these but there is no hiding the fact that his conversion percentage doesn’t look good. This will have hurt the Northern Irishman especially when you look at many of his closest rivals who were able to win multiple times on the PGA Tour (Thomas 3, Johnson 3, Koepka 2, Rose 2, Day 2).

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Even with a talismanic performance in a victorious European Ryder Cup team, McIlroy’s 2018 season will raise important questions about his game under pressure. Quite simply, he needs to answer the question - why hasn’t he won more?

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His final round at East Lake, like his closing 18 at Augusta and Firestone revealed a player suddenly fighting his swing. For a player of such ball-striking prowess, he was battling big misses that sent him steadily reversing down the leaderboard. For McIlroy and his coach, Michael Bannon, understanding why these two-way misses are happening as the tension rises is the big question they need to answer.

By contrast, we were reminded of Tiger’s killer instinct during the final round at the Tour Championship. He suffocated his challengers by compiling a largely mistake-free round.

Perhaps the best motivation for solving this conundrum was playing alongside Woods himself, watching this monumental achievement unfold at close-quarters. If McIlroy can rediscover a degree of control to match his awesome power when it matters most, he will surely get over the line more consistently in 2019.

Neil Tappin

In July 2023, Neil became just the 9th editor in Golf Monthly's 112-year history. Originally working with the best coaches in the UK to produce instruction content, he has also presented many Golf Monthly videos looking at all areas of the game from Tour player interviews to the rules of golf. 

Throughout his time with the brand he has also covered equipment launches that date back well over a decade. He clearly remembers the launch of the Callaway and Nike square drivers as well as the white TaylorMade driver families, such as the RocketBallz! If you take a look at the Golf Monthly YouTube channel, you'll see his equipment videos dating back over a decade! He has also conducted 'What's In The Bag' interviews with many of the game's best players like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm. Over the years, Neil has tested a vast array of products in each category and at drastically different price-points. 

Neil is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade Stealth Plus Fairway Wood: Titleist TSR2 Hybrid: Titleist TS3 Irons: PING Blueprint S (4&5), PING Blueprint T (6-PW) Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM7 50˚, 54˚, 60˚ Putter: Odyssey Triple Track Ten Ball: Titleist Pro V1X