Rory McIlroy misses Players cut

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- He famously skipped the Players Championship a year ago and admits the TPC Sawgrass Stadium course is one that he simply struggles to figure out.

So after missing the cut on Friday for the third time in as many tries, No. 1-ranked Rory McIlroy nonetheless said he would be back to try again in 2013.

"I promise,'' he said to laughter after a 76 knocked him out of the tournament.

McIlroy, 23, said earlier this week that he made a mistake in not playing a year ago, doing so because he had limited starts available on the PGA Tour after declining to take his membership.

But he showed up this year with high hopes after a runner-up finish at the Wells Fargo Championship last week and because he "came back here a much better player.''

But McIlroy could get nothing going. He made a double-bogey at the par-3 17th on Thursday to let a decent round get away from him. Then, after a birdie at the 10th -- his first -- on Friday, he made no more the rest of the way.

"I just need to try and get the hang of this golf course somehow,'' McIlroy said after finishing at 148, 4-over par. The cut was 144. "I just find it pretty difficult.

"Off the tee I find [it] pretty difficult around here. You have really got to position your ball in the fairway and to give yourself at least a chance to get to some of these pins. I just didn't do that over the last couple of days.''

McIlroy is not alone. Many players find the home of the tour's signature event to be frustrating. For 19 consecutive years, it has had a different winner. It has never had back-to-back winners. Since winning, Tiger Woods (2001) and Phil Mickelson (2007) have not really contended in the tournament.

Steve Stricker, who had a tour-best streak of 49 consecutive made cuts, won't be playing the weekend. Ernie Els, who lost in a playoff two weeks ago, missed the cut. Defending champion K.J. Choi shot an opening-round 75 and doesn't have a Saturday tee time at TPC Sawgrass.

"I think Rory's very much a horses for courses kind of guy,'' said his friend from Northern Ireland, Graeme McDowell, who failed to make the cut by a shot Friday after leading through 54 holes here a year ago. "When he gets on a golf course that he knows he can play, like Quail Hollow, he's awesome. He will compete.

"There's something about this golf course he doesn't like and he kind of knows that in his heart. He started off badly here the last few times he's been here. Rory's very much a confidence player. He maybe doesn't see his way around this golf course properly.''

McIlroy missed the cut in 2009 and again in 2010, a week after his first PGA Tour win at Quail Hollow. He didn't play last year, then came in after moving back to No. 1 this week.

For the two rounds, McIlroy hit just 20 of 36 greens and needed 31 putts Friday.

"It's unbelievable. I shoot 14 under last week and I feel like I hit it just the same this week, and I'm going home,'' McIlroy said. "So it's just one of those things. But you know, I'm not getting down on myself about it. I played well last week, and I've got a big part of the season coming up and looking forward to that.''

McIlroy said he'd head back to Northern Ireland, then will get ready for the European Tour's BMW Championship in two weeks. After that he'll return to the U.S. for the Memorial then the U.S. Open, where he is the defending champion.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.