It is not unusual for a PGA Tour player to change putters. But when you’re Rory McIlroy, and it appears you are doing so a couple weeks before the Masters, that’s news.
On Tuesday, multiple media outlets spotted the four-time major champion at Austin Country Club, site of this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, wielding a Scotty Cameron by Titleist blade. It was reminiscent of the Cameron GSS prototype with chromatic bronze finish he used to win his first two majors at the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional C.C. and 2012 PGA at Kiawah’s Ocean Course.
McIlroy is also, reportedly, making a minor change to his driver set-up for the Match Play. Lewis reported that McIlroy changed out the shaft in his TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus driver that he went to at the Players Championship, going from a 44½ inch to a 44 inch, saying that the shorter shaft keeps him from getting stuck inside during the swing and helps reduce the chances of a two-way miss off the tee.
McIlroy has been using a TaylorMade Spider X mallet, but has been struggling on the greens this season, ranking 173rd in strokes gained/putting while dropping .429 shots to the field per round. That means McIlroy is spotting his peers more than a shot-and-a-half on the greens over four rounds. Not great.
Still, the reasons players change putters are varied. Some are looking for a change of scenery that might break them out of a funk. That could certainly be the case here. Some players also prefer certain types of putters on particular types of grasses.
The latter scenario prompted Tiger Woods to move into a different flat stick at the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews, leaving his longtime Scotty Cameron for a Nike Method 001. “It comes off faster,” he said. “I’ve always struggled on slower greens, but I haven’t had to make that much of an adjustment [now] because the ball is coming off a little bit quicker.”
That may well be the case with McIlroy as well, except in reverse. Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis reported that McIlroy told him he used the putter during two days of practice at Augusta National last week. “I loved it on the greens of Augusta National,” Lewis said McIlroy told him, adding, “It allows him to be more athletic and gives him more freedom.”
The switch is not insignificant. McIlroy has used a mallet-style putter for the better part of the last four years, and the toe hang of a blade provides a different feel. The blade likely has a lower moment of inertia than the Spider mallet, meaning mis-hits will come off differently as well.
Whether McIlroy can rekindle some old magic on the greens is to be determined. It wasn’t as if he was exactly a wizard on the greens in 2011 and 2012. Despite the major wins, McIlroy ranked T-141 and 88th in strokes gained/putting those two seasons, respectively.