After his recent misadventures at Augusta and in Malaysia, Rory McIlroy needs to find a place where he can feel good about himself.
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Other than at home in Holywood, Northern Ireland, he probably couldn’t find a better spot on the map than the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, NC, to celebrate his 22nd birthday on Wednesday.
McIlroy is there this week to defend his first and only title on the PGA Tour in the Wells Fargo Championship.
"It was a huge step forward in my career," McIlroy told reporters on Wells Fargo Championship Media Day in March. "To win a golf tournament of that stature and to win it on a golf course of that nature, as well, it was big for me.
"I think it came at the right time last year, as well. I wasn’t really playing that great leading up to the tournament. I had just missed the cut in the Masters, and it was definitely a welcome return to form.
"It was definitely the best moment of my career so far."
The worst unquestionably came when he buckled under the major championship pressure and shot 8-over-par 80 in the final round of the Masters last month after taking a four-stroke lead after 54 holes.
McIlroy followed that up by failing to hold a three-shot lead during a 27-hole marathon Sunday in the Maybank Malaysian Open the next week and tying for third, two shots behind winner Matteo Manassero, the 17-year-old phenom from Italy.
"It was a good week," McIlroy said when it was over at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club, where he had a long putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff but 3-putted.
"To shoot the scores that I did considering the traveling (30 hours from Georgia to Malaysia) is a pretty good effort. I’m disappointed with the result, but everything else was positive. I’m proud of myself at how I picked myself up from last week."
Of course, the critics in the media were ready and almost eager to skewer Rory, some of them the same guys who have anointed him as the heir to Tiger Woods.
One writer even suggested that McIlroy is in danger of becoming the next Sergio Garcia, who seldom is in the conversation these days after also being earmarked for stardom while still in his teens.
One of McIlroy’s peers begged for sanity to prevail.
"We had time together and talked a lot," said Martin Kaymer, who was paired with McIlroy in the first two rounds in Malaysia. "He is only 21. That is what people should never forget.
"He is one of the best players in the world and he will win plenty of tournaments. I am sure he will win majors as well. You shouldn’t be too cruel to him. When I was 21, I was not even on tour."
McIlroy handled his meltdown on the back nine at Augusta with grace not often seen in one so young. He dealt with all the questions the media threw at him when it was over.
It was much the same in Malaysia, where he tried to deflect the spotlight onto Manassero, who claimed his second PGA European Tour title in as many years.
"Matteo is fantastic," said McIlroy, whose only Euro Tour title came in the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic. "He is a great talent. To get two wins on the European Tour before your 18th birthday is pretty special.
"He is great and we’ve known he is a great player."
Of course, we know that about McIlroy, too, and he will have many more chances to prove it.
However, he might want to reconsider his opinion that the long game is more important in golf than the shots around the green, particularly putting.
McIlroy admitted that even though his collapse at Augusta was touched off by a wild tee shot on the 10th hole, he lost confidence on the greens around the turn.
"I don’t care what anyone says about the short game being the most important; it’s not," McIlroy said earlier this year, explaining that he spends much more time on his ball-striking.
"The long game puts you in position to have putts to win tournaments. Guys say you have to have a short game to win tournaments and it is not the case. Not at all."
Jack Nicklaus admitted shortly after that he was the one who gave McIlroy that advice, adding that he seldom practiced the short stuff.
Of course, it was easy for the Golden Bear to say that, because in addition to having all the shots, he probably was the greatest clutch putter of all time except for maybe Tiger Woods.
McIlroy isn’t yet close to either one in that department, but he’d better learn to be — unless he wants to continue being compared to Sergio.