(CNN) -- Three starts and three missed cuts. Rory McIlroy has a lot of hard work to do before he begins the defense of his U.S. Open title later this month.
The world's No. 2 golfer crashed out of weekend contention at the PGA Tour's Memorial Tournament after a second-round 79 on Friday that left him 12 shots behind halfway leader Rory Sabbatini of South Africa.
"I don't feel like the scores are actually reflecting how I'm hitting the ball," the Northern Irishman told reporters. "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."
The last time McIlroy missed three cuts in a row was in 2008 as a 19-year-old playing on the European Tour.
He has committed to the U.S. circuit this year and next week will play the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, a tournament he added to his schedule only after his second-round 79 at the European Tour's flagship PGA Championship last weekend.
After Memphis comes the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco for the second major tournament of the golf season.
The event's course layouts are notoriously testing, but Luke Donald -- who has swapped the No. 1 ranking regularly with McIlroy this year -- believes the 23-year-old is close to regaining the form that has led many pundits to describe him as the next Tiger Woods.
"He's obviously frustrated -- this game does that to you," the Englishman said.
"He's not far away. He made a couple of careless errors, but I'm sure once he posts one solid run of maybe a couple of rounds or a tournament this will be a blur and he'll forget about it quickly."
Donald, who played the first two rounds at the Memorial's Muirfield Village with McIlroy, was six shots behind Sabbatini in a tie for 27th after a 73 on Friday.
Sabbatini, seeking his seventh PGA Tour title after a poor start to 2012, had a one-shot lead after carding a second successive 69.
That scored was matched by Woods, who is hoping to tie Jack Nicklaus on 73 wins at a course designed by the "Golden Bear."
Woods was tied for second with fellow Americans Spencer Levin (72) and Scott Stallings (73) on five-under 139 overall.
"The things that I'm supposed to be doing for the past few tournaments, I was able to do," said Woods, who has struggled in his past three starts since ending his long wait for a 72nd title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in late March. However, he has never missed successive cuts in his professional career.
"This is the way that I hit the ball at Bay Hill and the way I hit it at the end of last year. That's what's exciting about it," Woods added.