Golf

The Rory McIlroy roller coaster, finding a sleeper, where’s Phil Mickelson and more big topics for The Players

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The Players stands as the crown jewel on the PGA Tour’s schedule. It brings together a strong field, with a huge payday — the total purse has grown to $20 million. A few of the marquee names won’t be around. Phil Mickelson is out, as his break continues. More on that in a bit. Tiger Woods is still rehabbing the injuries he suffered in last year’s car crash. Bryson DeChambeau is sitting out another one, claiming he’s not quite back from hand and hip ailments.

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Still, this is a big one, filled with possibilities — an awful weather forecast that could make that walk to the 17th tee even more interesting than usual.

With that, we run through some of the big questions heading into this one:

What do you expect from Rory McIlroy this week and beyond this year — Good Rory, Bad Rory or So-So Rory?

Michael Collins: I won’t predict the year because there is way too much big golf ahead for Rors. Here’s something surprising to think about: This will be just his fifth start of 2022 — that includes two starts on the DP World Tour. Hell, this is the 11th PGA Tour event of the calendar year — it’s just the 20th event of the season. For the guy ranked sixth in the OWGR, I expect somewhere between so-so and good. Rory is going to do what’s become his norm — one great round, one good round, one so-so round and one round that costs him the tournament. It’s not a knock on him — half the field will have a so-so and a round that sends them home for the weekend.

Mark Schlabach: McIlroy quietly has had one of his best stretches in recent memory. Since the second round of the FedEx Cup Playoffs at the BMW Championship in August, he has posted eight straight top-15 finishes in five official PGA Tour events and three starts on the DP World Tour. That includes a victory at the CJ Cup. He won the Players in 2019, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in contention again this week, which would only ramp up his expectations heading into the Masters. He only needs a green jacket to complete the career grand slam.

Matt Barrie: That’s what made Rory at the Arnold Palmer an entertaining watch. We got all of the above. It appeared after his opening-round 65 we were in store for Good Rory. Then a pair of 76s on the weekend changed that quickly. His putting was still shaky, and some of his misses off the tee were a bit alarming. Still, that 65 is always in there. I’d say for the rest of 2022, we should buckle for Roller-coaster Rory.

Kevin Van Valkenburg: I love Rory, I love watching him, but I’m a little exhausted by pre-Masters buildup regarding the state of his game. I think he’ll be better than he was over the weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but outside that, none of this matters much until he pulls down Magnolia Lane.

Nick Pietruszkiewicz: He says he is hitting it well, despite those 76s on the weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. In fairness, most of the scores were ugly at Bay Hill in some rough conditions. What is concerning were his comments afterwards. « I feel punch drunk, to be honest, » he said Sunday. « The weekend, it’s like crazy golf. You just don’t get rewarded for good shots. Like I’m venting here and I’m frustrated and whatever. I think as well the frustration is it’s a carbon copy of what’s happened the last three years here. » So it’s bothersome that he doesn’t want to be in grind-it-out mode, which is required to win. As much as I hate to agree with Matt, this feels like another Rory roller-coaster year is coming.

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