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Rory McIlroy entered the final round of the Sony Open in a familiar spot: playing in the final pairing with a decent chance to win the tournament. McIlroy is no stranger to winning. The Northern Irishman has 4 major victories sprinkled in with his 14 PGA Tour and 13 European Tour wins. However, the former world number 1 would not add to that total as he shot a 72 and fell back to 4th place. And this has become a troubling pattern for McIlroy, who has now gone 0 for 7 in the last year when he has been in the final pairing on Sunday. It has lead many to wonder of he has lost some of the nerve that once made him the world’s best golfer.
A Tough 2018
To be sure there are some mitigating factors. It’s easy to point out that someone has lost all 7 of his last final day pairings and call them a bottler. But to do so would ignore that McIlroy won the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational, his first win in 2 years. For one thing, McIlroy has only been leading the pack going into Sunday once last year, and that was when he was tied with Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship. McIlroy would shoot a -2 and fall behind Molinari by 2 strokes. When 1 stroke behind Haotong Li at the Dubai Desert Classic, Mcilroy shot a respectable -3. Again 1 stroke behind at the BMW Championship, this time to Justin Rose, McIlroy still managed a -2. In his 4 other final group pairings, Mcilroy was 3 strokes behind the 4 times, a margin that will always be difficult to overcome. It is hard to expect McIlroy to make up 3 strokes against golfers like Justin Thomas or Patrick Reed. This paints a picture that McIlroy is actually very close to getting more wins and runs counter to the emerging narrative that he has lost his nerve.
A Look at the Stats
However, that doesn’t tell the whole story of McIlroy’s last season. McIlroy has shown a wide disparity between his Saturday and Sunday performances. In fact, McIlroy had the lowest 3rd round scoring average on the entire PGA Tour in 2018. Yet he ranked 54th on his Sunday scoring average, down from 9th in 2017. The numbers do not lie and McIlroy has seen his Sunday performances decline precipitously, a fact perhaps made worse by just how well he managed to play on Saturdays. Only McIlroy knows whether this is due to weakened mental toughness or just bad luck. McIlroy has acknowledged these struggles and 2019 will provide a strong litmus test to see if he is moving forward or backward.