"I need a spark, I need something and I just don't seem to have it" - Rory McIlroy
Another Top 10 finish for the Holywood native, but a tournament that got worse by the day.
For most golfers, the current run of form Rory McIlroy is on would represent a super start to 2021.
For Rory McIlroy, he is getting close but nowhere near close enough, and he is frustrated.
The 31-year-old has four Top 10 finishes, another three in the top 20, a 21st place finish and one missed cut in his nine PGA Tour outings for the 2021 season. In his five tournaments in this calendar year, he has finished 16th, 13th, 6th and 10th, with that missed cut coming at the Genesis Open.
With Major season kicking off at the Masters next month and McIlroy going to Sawgrass this week to defend the Players Championship title, it would seem that the four-time Major winner is not far off where he needs to be.
However, watching McIlroy closely, one can see how frustrated he is becoming with himself. He is capable of magical rounds followed by rank average ones. There are days when everyone is dropping birdies and he can't get out of third gear.
At Bay Hill, for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, it was more of the same. McIlroy was joint leader after an opening round of 66, but that was as good as it got. He carded 71 and 72 on Friday and Saturday but was only four shots off the lead heading into the final round.
On Sunday, it all fell apart on the sixth and seventh holes. Aware that he needed to make something happen on the par-5 sixth hole, McIlroy went for broke off the tee. He found the water twice and was only saved from a triple bogey after sticking a 263-yard iron approach just three feet from the hole and tapping in for double.
Unable to shake off the funk, he bogeyed the next hole and did so again at the 10th. His race was run and he eventually signed off for a disappointing round of 76, some 10 shots worse off than his opener.
Candid as always, McIlroy opened up on his struggles to reporters after finishing joint 10th and eight shots behind eventual winner Bryson DeChambeau. He commented:
"I feel okay. There was some good parts this week again. Some stuff that I'm sort of... I don't know what the word is or how to describe it, but just a little dejected or... I don't know, like, maybe like maybe looking to go in a different direction.
"I don't know. I need something, I need a spark, I need something and I just don't seem to have it. Some days it's good, some days it's not.
"So I'll get up there [to Sawgrass] tomorrow, get some practice in and get ready for next week."
McIlroy won The Players Championship in 2019 and was defending it, last year, when the Covid-19 pandemic saw the tournament cancelled after one round [with Hideki Matsuyama's -9 opening round in vain].
Although it was only 25% capacity, fans were allowed into Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational and it will be likewise for TPC at Sawgrass.
"It feels so much more than that and it's great to play in front of that," said McIlroy. "I'm looking forward to doing it again next week.
"We're all sort of now seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, where things can at least get back to some sort of normality pretty soon. But, yeah, I mean I can't believe it's been a year. It's going to be surreal looking back in 20 years time and sort of seeing what we lived through."