PITTSFORD, NY -- A year ago at this time, Rory McIlroy shuffled into the media room at the PGA Championship and faced a number of questions about his poor play. He was asked how he would rate his year (he gave it a B). He was asked about the inconsistency in his game (he said he needed to play more). And he was questioned about whether it was possible to play as he did when he won Congressional by a record margin (he said he'd love to play like he did then but it would be pretty unlikely).
Fast forward to this year and McIlroy is being asked almost all the same questions. Where is his game? What is the cause of the problems? Can he find things this week?
He didn't offer up a grade of his 2013 campaign but judging by his record and his comments, it's unlikely he'd award himself anything close to a B. In fact, he might be headed for an F if he can't figure things out.
But at the very least, he's working hard (he has once again been putting in marathon practice sessions this week) and has some good perspective on his troubles.
"I was sort of in this position coming into this tournament last year in a way," said McIlroy, who last finished in the top 10 back in May. "I was coming off a fifth place in Akron, but the run of events before that wasn't so good. So obviously, yeah, you never hope to struggle or not to play well, but it's going to happen. It's inevitable."
In golf, more than any other sports, there are more lows than highs. A solid career can be one where you win only three or four times in 200 or 300 starts. You don't always win. In fact, you rarely win.
It's just that, unfairly or not, we figured after such a wonderful start, McIlroy was bound to keep running up titles, competing for majors and taking on Tiger and Phil. At the very least, we believed he'd play a whole lot better.
With the slide, the fingers have been pointed at the causes. Could it be the equipment? His girlfriend? His change of agents? His moving to Florida?
Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. And maybe.
Certainly the rest of the world has felt comfortable chiming in on the issue. Nick Faldo said it was the equipment change. Gary Player suggested it might be the girlfriend.
McIlroy believes it can all be attributed to something rather basic -- a poor swing, one that he's had trouble correcting.
"First and foremost," he stated, "I just haven't been swinging it the best this year. I got into a couple bad habits with my golf swing, and it's just taken me a little bit longer to get out of them. Obviously when you're fighting that so much, it's hard to play the golf that I want to play, which is fluid, which is free flowing, I guess. That's the way I play my best."
Listening to him talk, even though there are smiles and laughs, there's a sense that he's tired of struggling, tired of playing bad golf, tired of answering the questions. It bubbled over at the U.S. Open when he creased the shaft in his nine-iron after another bad swing.
"That's the thing," he said. "There's been times this year where I've really gotten down on myself and that's something that hasn't helped at all, and something that I'm trying to get better at."
When asked about his Ryder Cup teammate, Ian Poulter tried to put a little perspective on matters.
"You know, I think sometimes we forget how young he is and what he's been able to achieve at a very early age. So the second he feels comfortable again, whether that's with his swing or equipment or whatever it is, then, you know, Rory will be winning golf tournaments. That natural swing of his doesn't just disappear overnight and I think he's had to cope with an awful lot of things and changes that he's had in the last 10 months, and it's not just equipment and it's not just media. I think there's been a lot of off-the-golf course things that have happened, management, etc., etc., that have all been a factor in what's happened this year."
There's a good way to answer all the questions, put an end to the comments and stop all the frustration -- just win. Might that come this week, just as it did a year ago? It seems unlikely but this is golf, a major, where anything can happen.