In defense of Rory McIlroy

Can Tiger get to 20 majors? (USATSI)
Rory McIlroy hasn't had as bad a year as you might think. (USATSI)

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I wrote in a piece earlier on Thursday that the constantly changing narrative in sports is one of the most frustrating things about trying to follow in 2013.

With every LeBron James possession we annoint him or denounce him. With every Tiger Woods shot we lionize him or crucify him. With every RGIII snap he is "the best ever" or nothing it all. It's tiring, really.

And Rory McIlroy has found out in 2013 what it's like to be under that scrutiny, what it's like to have his feet held to the fire.

It hasn't been fun so far.

And yet I maintain, as I've maintained all year, that most of McIlroy's struggles are media-driven. We need an intriguing narrative for him because he's No. 3 in the world and he's famous and he's with Nike now.

But what if it's the wrong narrative?

Let's look at McIlroy's stats from this year compared to this time in 2012 (these are combined for PGA Tour and European Tour):

Cuts made

2012: 10 of 14
2013: 10 of 14

Oh, same number, huh? All four of McIlroy's cuts this year have come in Europe -- he hasn't missed a cut in the US since the 2012 US Open although as Ryan Lavner of Golf Channel pointed out to me on Twitter, he was going to when he withdrew at the Honda Classic earlier this year.

Top 10 finishes

2012: Eight
2013: Four

McIlroy only has one more top 10 on the PGA Tour this year compared to 2012. His biggest struggle (compared to 2012) has been on the European Tour.


2012: One
2013: Zero

If Martin Laird hadn't shot an out-of-his-mind 63 at the Texas Open, McIlroy would likely have one this year, too.

Scoring average

2012: 70.43
2013: 71.95

Granted, one and a half is a lot for a professional but his PGA Tour average is 70.4 which ranks him in the top 40.

Money earned

2012: $3,616,377
2013: $1,390,585

Mostly because of the win and the top 10s in Europe last year.

Look, I'm not saying McIlroy isn't struggling -- he is. He even said after his first round at the British Open that he feels "braindead." His struggles, though, have been mental, not physical.

Let's not end his career seven months into his fifth full year on the PGA Tour. I've been saying for months now you need to flip your expectations for the young Ulsterman. You're likely to see more Phil Mickelson out of him than you are Tiger Woods.

Woods is a grinder, a blue-collar guy wearing red shirts on the weekends -- it says something that he's 0-48 in majors when trailing after 54 holes. McIlroy, like Mickelson, is a poker player who loves to put everything in the middle of the table. 

You're not likely to see McIlroy take over Woods' 14-1 record in majors when holding the lead after three rounds but I bet we see something from him at some point like we saw from Mickelson last Sunday at Muirfield.

A work of art on the biggest and most difficult stage in the world.

Somebody just needs to get his head back in it first.

For more golf news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnGolf and @KylePorterCBS on Twitter or Google+ and like us on Facebook.

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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