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Out of the Rough: What to make of Rory McIlroy

By all accounts, except for the world rankings, Rory McIlroy is the best player in the world.

How do we explain two missed cuts in a row in two huge events?

And, if we can put our finger on what went wrong, is it cause for concern?

It started at The Players Championship two weeks ago. McIlroy missed the cut by four shots, but we dismissed it because he didn't like the TPC Sawgrass.

"No matter if you like the golf course or not, I said it at my press conference at The Players Championship a couple of weeks ago, besides the prestige and size of it, you still want to win these big events," McIlroy said Friday.

He made that statement after he missed the cut at the BMW PGA Championship by a staggering eight shots. McIlroy barely broke 80 in the second round.

What's troubling is that McIlroy is dead right about the magnitude of the events. The BMW PGA is the European Tour's flagship event. It's basically The Players Championship for that circuit.

They are "big events," and McIlroy put up big numbers en route to having "big" questions arise about his game.

No matter if the course suits your eye, the No. 1 ranked player in the world can't miss cuts by miles because he doesn't like the course. Tiger Woods would rather spend five hours at a crowded mall fielding questions about his personal life than tee it up at Sawgrass, but at least he won there once.

The best players in the world are supposed to overcome and adapt and McIlroy clearly isn't at that stage yet. Some guys, like Phil Mickelson for example, won't win a British Open. His shot-shape doesn't set up for it, but he's worked hard and nearly won it 2004.

We have just stumbled on the problem.

McIlroy admitted that maybe what ails him has occurred before he plays in these events.

"I think I might have taken my eye off the ball a little bit, so I just need to go back and work hard and try to get it back to the level that it was leading into the Masters," McIlroy said.

The obvious follow-up was, "Taking your eye off the ball, how?"

"I don't know, maybe just not practicing as hard as I might have been," he said. "I feel like I've put the work in, but maybe just more specific."

Now we're getting somewhere.

Perhaps the most disturbing of all in this saga is, why now, with the Players, BMW PGA and U.S. Open, did he slow down his preparation?

McIlroy even threw a club in disgust this past week. Maybe McIlroy needs a good talking to from his dad or something, but it's time to get re-focused and quick, or his stay at The Memorial this week will be brief, and heaven forbid what will happen at the U.S. Open in two weeks.

It's not newsworthy to acknowledge that hard work is required to be the best in the world. McIlroy's been a grinder, but a relapse, no matter how small, can derail everything.

McIlroy is only 23 years old. It's a young 23. He celebrated a birthday in early May. It's disgusting to think of how supremely gifted he is at an age when he can't legally rent a car in the United States.

He's been thrust into the spotlight thanks to that incredible gift. There was a picture on Twitter Saturday night of McIlroy and his equally famous girlfriend, tennis great Caroline Wozniacki, in front of the Eiffel Tower.

What girlfriend wouldn't want to spend a nice night in front of the Eiffel Tower with her boyfriend. I'm sure mine wouldn't mind, and this isn't to say McIlroy shouldn't have a life, but it may just be time to slow down on the jet-setting.

Yes, McIlroy was on the range at Wentworth, site of the BMW PGA, Saturday morning after missing the cut. Granted, a flight from England to Paris can't be too taxing, but then it's off to Ohio for The Memorial.

The time might have come for young Mr. McIlroy to get very serious. His golf game is by no means in tatters, but a big part of the season is yet to come. He seems to have a plan.

"I think it's just putting time in on the range. Just hitting a lot of balls and just sort of getting back into it," McIlroy said. "I don't think it's something that will be hard to fix. I just need to hit a lot of balls and just get comfortable with my game again."

McIlroy has time to turn it around. You can believe that he will, but this whole thing reminds me of a great moment in television.

In the pilot of "The West Wing," President Bartlet chides his staff after things have gone a little south.

"Seems to me, we've all been taking a little break," he said. "Nothing wrong with taking a break. Breaks are good."

Then, after a little more, Bartlet says, "My point is this: break's over."

Rory, break's over.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

- Zach Johnson's two-stroke penalty for not returning his ball and mark to the proper spot on the 18th green Sunday at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial is one of the most senseless penalties I've seen in recent memory. Sure, his thoughts were on winning and his caddy, Damon Green, was remembering his father, who recently passed, but that was as careless as you'll see. It didn't cost him. He made a five-footer for what turned out to be the tournament, but that was inexcusable.

- Jason Dufner's run ended Sunday. He was gassed. In a month, he finally won on the tour, got married, won again, then had another chance. That would put almost anyone on fumes, especially in a Texas heat that could have slow-cooked a brisket. Dufner is making a good call walking away until the U.S. Open.

- Luke Donald getting back to No. 1 means very little. He's as solid as there is in the world, but more time atop the rankings, with no majors to show for it, will lead to more questions about why he can't win the big ones.

- Ernie Els went bonkers on European Tour officials and grounds staff at Wentworth after Saturday's third round of the BMW PGA Championship. He felt the course was becoming close to unplayable and no one was watering the greens. He apologized on Sunday, but Els has been less than the "Big Easy" this year. There was the awkward interview with Golf Channel's Steve Sands after a bogey-bogey finish cost him the Transitions Championship. Els has been pressing this year and it's blowing up at inopportune times. He could probably work a little on it, but Els has enough goodwill in the bank to let a few of these slide.

- A Roger Chapman rout at the Senior Players Championship is no way to bring in fans to the Champions Tour. In a rare appearance on national TV, this event turned into a huge snooze-fest. Nothing you can do about it, but this did nothing positive for anyone or anything other than Chapman.

- No movies or television recently. Sorry, chalk it up to fatherhood.