His road to the Masters hit a speed bump Friday in the Honda Classic when the world's No. 1 player managed only one birdie in the rain, stumbled badly down the stretch and headed home for the weekend after a 4-over 74, the first time in nearly a year he had consecutive rounds over par.
The cut officially will not be made until Saturday because of a rain delay of nearly four hours, though he knew the score. And he wasn't happy about it.
"I don't like missing cuts," McIlroy said. "You want to be playing on the weekend, and I'm not there. I'm not going to be playing this weekend, which is not nice."
It was pleasant enough for Patrick Reed, who recovered from a double bogey early in his round by playing bogey-free the rest of the way for another 67. He was the clubhouse leader at 6-under 134. None of the late starters had enough light to play more than 12 holes before the second round was suspended by darkness.
Brendan Steele birdied all four holes he played and was at 8 under.
The Honda Classic is considered the start of the buildup to the Masters, and McIlroy is getting more attention than anyone over the last two decades except for Tiger Woods. McIlroy is No. 1 in the world. He already has won this year. And a green jacket is all that's missing for him to become the sixth player with the career Grand Slam.
He's also not about to panic.
"I guess after coming off a three-week break, and then felt a little ... I wouldn't say rusty, but just not quite on top of my game yesterday," McIlroy said. "And then today, I felt like I was trying to get something going and couldn't. Coming off three weeks off and playing in conditions like these, it sort of shows you where you're game is at. Just got to regroup and put some work in and get ready for Miami next week."
McIlroy is playing twice more before the Masters.
"I wouldn't worry and read too much into it," Luke Donald said after a 67 put him at 4-under 136, two shots behind Reed. "Rory has been by far the best players in the world for the last year or so."
Reed made double bogey on No. 11 — his second hole of the round — and then the rain became so heavy that play was stopped, first for about two hours, and then for nearly another two hours.
"Made for a long day," Reed said. "But to get off to a rough start with making that double on 11 and to be able to play bogey-free from there on out, it meant a lot to me just because it means my game is where it needs to be."
McIlroy lives a short drive from PGA National, though that's not where he wanted to be for the weekend.
While the three bogeys at the end of the round cost him, what really hurt was a bogey on the par-5 18th as he made the turn. He felt his lie in the left rough was good enough for him to go for the green with a fairway metal. It wasn't, and the ball came up short and into the water, leading to bogey.
That's also where the big turnaround for Brooks Koepka occurred.
Koepka, who grew up in West Palm Beach, played with McIlroy and Dustin Johnson and opened with a 78. On the 18th, his approach hit a cart path and bounced over the sky box and onto the other side. It took a rules official some time to even figure out where he was. He received a free drop on the other side, 70 yards away, hit wedge to 20 feet and holed the putt.
"I guess you could say it was the kick-start I needed," Koepka said.
That was the centerpiece of three straight birdies, and Koepka kept right on rolling to fulfil a mission. Swing coach Claude Harmon told him to try to do 10 shots better than a 78, and the 24-year-old told him, "I'll do better than that." He shot 64 — a 14-shot improvement — to finish at 2-over 142.
Johnson, a contender at Pebble Beach and Riviera the last two weeks, wasn't so fortunate. He three-putted from 3 feet on the seventh hole, shot 75 and finished at 12-over 152 to miss his second cut this year.
McIlroy missed the cut for the 29th time in 191 tournaments worldwide, and for the 11th time on the PGA Tour. His last weekend off was at the Irish Open last summer. Boy Wonder has a history of getting streaky with wins and missed cuts, though this would be appear to be more of an aberration.
"It was funny, it felt like the first tournament of the season when I've actually played two events," McIlroy said, referring to his runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi and victory in Dubai. "I felt yesterday maybe a little tentative, just maybe trying to ease my way into the round a little bit and not really being that aggressive. That's why it's nice to have four rounds next week to try and put that right."