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TPC Sawgrass is such a capricious beast that the drawing of firm conclusions from Players Championship outcomes can be unwise. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have won here. So too have Craig Perks and Stephen Ames. Golfers enjoy the razzle-dazzle and riches associated with the PGA Tour’s marquee event but not many laud its venue.

Rory McIlroy required fireworks upon return to Sawgrass on Saturday morning which duly did not appear. Playing the closing eight holes in one under par – storms had halted play late on Friday afternoon – was not sufficient to survive the cut. The Northern Irishman’s plus five aggregate meant he played just 36 holes in his final stroke play event before the Masters.

That McIlroy was not his jaunty self as he completed media duties was no real surprise. A sixth missed cut in 13 Players starts is hardly cause for celebration. Yet there is a rising and broader theme, that McIlroy’s key role in the reconfiguration of the PGA Tour is causing at least an element of professional fatigue.

“Yeah, it is fair,” said McIlroy of this theory. “I’d love to get back to being a golfer. It’s been a busy couple of weeks. It’s been a busy sort of six or eight months. But everything has sort of been announced now and the wheels have been put in motion. So it should quieten down from here.”

McIlroy was part of a board meeting in advance of last week’s Bay Hill Invitational which stretched to seven hours. Elongated talks have become commonplace. So, too, has McIlroy’s position as the unofficial spokesperson for golf’s existing ecosystem as the LIV threat lingers.

McIlroy’s willingness to work for a greater good is entirely to his credit, as is his candour before the media. History will be kind to him. Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour’s commissioner, answered the questions he felt like answering during a rare press conference appearance on Tuesday. Earlier, McIlroy admitted LIV has played a crucial part in this tour’s modernisation while taking a side swipe at James Hahn, an outspoken critic. This all only fuelled the sense that McIlroy is carrying out a lot of work that highly paid executives should really be doing on his behalf.

“It’s just the time management,” McIlroy added. “The golf out here, that’s fine, but it’s just more the time at home to make sure you’re getting prepared, to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to be ready once you show up to these weeks. That’s where I’ve maybe sacrificed a little bit of time with some of this other stuff. As I said, I’m ready to get back to being purely a golfer.”

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan speaks to the media before the Players Championship. Photograph: Erik S Lesser/EPA

McIlroy sits on the PGA Tour’s policy board. Woods, the greatest golf influencer of his time, has never felt the need to involve himself in such domains. Woods has, like McIlroy, been integral to the PGA Tour’s response to LIV but from the position of barely playing tournament golf.

“What Rory has said and done are what leaders do,” said Woods of McIlroy late in 2022. “Rory is a true leader out here on tour. The fact that he’s actually able to get the things he said out in the public eye, be so clear minded with it and so eloquent with it, meanwhile go out there and win golf tournaments on top of that … people have no idea how hard that is to do, to be able to separate those two things.”

Indeed, last year saw McIlroy challenge for all four majors, win the FedEx Cup and return to No 1 in the world as LIV tumult rumbled around him. There was no indication at all, until now, of him feeling the strain.

“I actually don’t feel like I’m playing that badly,” added the four-time major winner. “A few miscues here and there, I putted it off the 6th green on Friday. Just a little untidy. But I hit the ball OK. This course, if you’re a little off, definitely just magnifies where you are.”

McIlroy cited alignment problems after struggling in the opening round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He spoke at Sawgrass of the difficulties associated with bedding in a new driver. Even at the Dubai Desert Classic, which he won in dramatic style, it was apparent he was not in complete control of his game.

Technical matters should not be ignored. It is just that all McIlroy has given outside the ropes may finally be impacting what transpires inside of them.

#Rory #McIlroy #golfer #missing #cut

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