ORLANDO, Fla. — Justin Rose was rather blunt about the fact it’s been a year since Rory McIlroy won a golf tournament, which happens to be the title he’ll begin to defend Thursday when the Arnold Palmer Invitational begins at Bay Hill.
“One win in 12 months is not going to be acceptable for Rory, for sure,’’ Rose said Wednesday. “But the great thing about Rory — which when you’re competing against him is not the great thing — [is] when he’s questioned, he kind of somehow snaps into a gear and proves a lot of people wrong. He’s done that through his career a couple of times, so I’m going to be careful about saying too much.’’
McIlroy is in a somewhat odd place with his game in that he’s been playing well enough to win for the most part, but it seems whenever he does kick it in with his game, there’s been someone else in the field who’s been just a little bit better.
McIlroy enters this week with four consecutive top-five finishes, so it’s not as if he’s playing poorly and missing cuts.
“I’m playing well, it just seems like one or two people play a little better than me every week I tee it up,’’ McIlroy said. “I played well in Mexico [two weeks ago]. DJ [winner Dustin Johnson] played just a little bit better than everyone else. So I’m in a good place with my game, doing everything pretty well and just got to try and keep continuing on that path. If I keep working on these things and keep doing the right things, hopefully sooner or later I’ll turn all these good finishes into a win.’’
When Rose’s words were relayed to him, McIlroy said, “If I’m on this path, which I think I am, to becoming a better golfer and a better player and having a better mindset and trying to come to terms better with perceived losses — whether they be second place, third place, fourth place — if someone were to tell me you have to go through 12 or 18 months or 24 months of this, but come out the other side of it and you will have those five-win seasons, six-win seasons, these 12, 18, 24 months will have been worth it.
“I feel like I’m on that path to improvement and becoming a better golfer and I can feel I’m a better golfer right now than I was a couple years ago,’’ he went on. “I might have won more a couple years ago, but I feel like I’m putting things in place to get to a point where I’ll get back to those four-win, five-win, six-win seasons. But you can’t just turn it on like that. It takes awhile, it takes time, but I think I’m doing all the right things to get back to that point.’’
McIlroy stormed to his win last year at Bay Hill with a final-round 64 that was highlighted by a scorching finish on the back nine. That was his first win in almost 18 months and he hasn’t won since. This isn’t good enough for a player who’s won 14 times on the PGA Tour, including four major championships.
“I played with Rory in the final round last year when he won [at Bay Hill] and I was right there and we were having a pretty good tussle down the stretch and he chipped in on 15 and that was sort of the little turning point there,’’ Rose said. “But it’s always good to see Rory win. He makes winning look good. He’s obviously got that type of game that when he wins it looks so easy that you think, ‘Why aren’t you doing this week in week out?’ But we all know that golf isn’t that way.
“He’s doing a lot of good things, and if I was Rory I would basically be telling myself to be patient and keep focusing on what I’m doing and keep creating the chances.’’