DUBLIN, Ohio -- Rory McIlroy's troubles in the Memorial on Friday began when he tried to play from the bank of a creek and the ball wound up going backward.
That's about the direction of his game at the moment.
McIlroy missed the cut for the third straight time with a 7-over 79 in cool, blustery conditions at Muirfield Village. That shot from the creek led to a double bogey, and a double bogey three holes later with a tee shot into the water left him feeling as if nothing is going his way.
"I hit some good shots," McIlroy said. "It just seems like every time I go out there, I make one or two big numbers and that sort of throws me -- a couple doubles on the back nine. Just those big numbers at the beginning are killing me, and I just need to get those off the card and I'll be OK."
But with his title defense in the U.S. Open two weeks away, there is cause for concern.
It was only a month ago when McIlroy lost in a playoff at Quail Hollow and returned to No. 1 in the world. Since then, he missed the cut in The Players Championship, the BMW PGA Championship and the Memorial, which he considers one of his favorite courses.
The last time McIlroy missed three successive cuts was in August 2008 -- the Swedish Masters, Dutch Open and Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles -- when he was 19 and ranked No. 164 in the world.
McIlroy doesn't feel as though he is that far off, but the frustration showed. Standing off to the side of the 17th green, he tilted his head toward the overcast sky, closed his eyes and exhaled heavily. He waited his turn on the 18th tee with both hands thrust in his pockets, head bowed, the driver leaning against him.
"He's obviously frustrated," said Luke Donald, the world No. 1. "Just having watched Rory the last few days, he's not far away. He made a couple of careless errors and made some big numbers on a couple holes that was the difference this week. I'm sure once he posts that one good round, that one solid run of maybe a couple of rounds, this will be a blur and he'll forget about it quickly."
McIlroy blamed himself for not being properly prepared last week at Wentworth, and he worked hard on the range and in the gym before coming to America for an important three-week stretch. It didn't help.
There was that quadruple-bogey 7 on his third hole of the tournament, although he made a strong recovery to shoot 71. He began Friday by missing 12-foot birdie chances on the opening two holes, and then his opportunities began to dwindle.
The killer was the 11th, which McIlroy said was an error in judgment.
His second shot into the wind went down the bank of the creek, and McIlroy tried to play back to the fairway. The ball hit the bank and went backward into the water. He had to scramble to make the double bogey. Then, he pulled his tee shot on the 14th into the stream and missed the green in the wrong spot, leading to his next double bogey.
That was too much damage from which he could recover.
"I just wanted to chip it out in the middle of the fairway, and as soon as I hit it, it obviously just hit the bank in front of me and came back in the water," McIlroy said. "Probably a bit of bad judgment because I thought I could just chip it back out. But if I had examined the line a little bit closer, I might have just taken a drop straight away."
McIlroy added the St. Jude Classic to his schedule, giving him four straight tournaments. That doesn't mean he's playing many rounds. McIlroy said at the start of the week that these two-day work weeks aren't helping him.
"I don't feel like the scores are actually reflecting how I'm hitting the ball," he said. "I was able to string nine good holes together yesterday. I just need to keep working on it and try and string 18 good holes together, and then try and string two days together, and obviously three days and ultimately four. But I hit some good shots out there. I'm definitely hitting the ball better than I did last week, so I can see an improvement there. But I've still got a long way to go."
And the U.S. Open is only a short time away.