McIlroy: Major improvement is needed

McIlroy is making his latest practice steps towards salvation.

McIlroy is generally priced up as the second favourite for this week's US Open – albeit a distant one to Tiger Woods – when there is little basis for the Northern Irishman being afforded such status. Apart, that is, from his ability to roar back to form after a troubled spell, as proven at the US PGA last year. McIlroy's other hope lies in the elements; the tail-end of a tropical storm may yet hit the course at Merion, Pennsylvania, softening it up to play more into the 24-year-old's favour.

To describe McIlroy's year to date as indifferent would be to do him a favour. The world No 2 has struggled in the US – he has only a single second-placed finish – and returned to Europe only to miss the cut at the PGA Championship.

Included in this run has been McIlroy's infamous walk-off at the Honda Classic in March. The handling of that, plus legal action from one of his former sponsors, Oakley, are thought to be factors in an imminent formal split from his management company, Horizon.

On face value, McIlroy and Horizon have clearly been good for each other. A multimillion-pound deal with Nike is evidence of that. Yet the split is not a harmonious one and is in the hands of lawyers. In the midst of this, McIlroy even took exception to the public comments of his close friend Graeme McDowell regarding this parting of the ways.

Whatever else can safely be said of McIlroy, he is single-minded and never averse to change. The theme this year is whether that lack of continuity, either with equipment or with those looking after his affairs, is negatively influencing his on-course performance. McIlroy would firmly dismiss such a notion.

Ominously for those who fancy him to triumph at the US Open, his basic flaws have ranged amongputting troubles, poor connections with iron shots and wayward drives. McIlroy lies 106th in the PGA Tour's driving accuracy table and 123rd for strokes gained from putting. "It's not that far away," McIlroy said. That, however, has been an all-too-familiar message.

"My misses this year have been too wide. Last year if I missed a fairway or missed a shot, it wasn't by much. This year it seems the misses have been big and have cost me. I'm thinking back to Augusta, third day, missed a couple of tee shots right on the 7th and 11th, which sort of cost me on Saturday.

"Sometimes it's not about how good your good shots are, it's about how much damage your bad shots do to you, and if you can limit that as much as you can then it's always going to be a good thing." – © Guardian News & Media 2013

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