The Open: Like it or lump it, Rory McIlroy has smarts to beat the bogeys
If Rory McIlroy departed Royal St George’s last year in something of a childish strop then we saw an altogether different animal in his opening round at Lytham, a bloke more accepting of the bad luck that comes the way of all golfers in this championship. McIlroy was 3-under par standing on the 15th tee and then proceeded to hit his drive marginally out of bounds – a matter of inches – via the head of an unsuspecting young man who is, this morning, the proud owner of an enormous bump on his crown – and a golf glove signed by the superstar who helped give it to him.
The error led to a double bogey, but it was the reaction to it that was the interesting thing. McIlroy birdied his next hole to get back one of those dropped shots and then played the most gorgeous approach to the 18th and got the other one back when sinking a six-footer for birdie and a round of 67. “I liked how I reacted out there,” he said later. “Maybe in years in the past I might have fizzled out, I might have let it [the double bogey] get to me.”
The incident on 15 was dramatic. McIlroy’s tee-shot was a direct hit to the head of the spectator and necessitated some medical treatment to stem the flow of blood. Bad luck for the fan, but bad luck (if not quite as sore) for McIlroy, too. Had his tee-shot just landed on the ground he would not have been out of bounds. Instead, his landed square on the guy’s bonce and flew 20 yards towards trouble. Not that McIlroy knew there was out of bounds on that right-hand side in the first place. “I didn’t realise,” he said. “I mean, it was only just out of bounds by a couple of inches. It went 20 yards off the spectator’s head. If he could have headed it the other way it would have been in the fairway (In case you think that sounds like the comment of a heartless sod, McIlroy was joking). The most important thing was that he was okay because I would have felt terrible if it had been worse than what it was. He told me he was okay. I gave him a glove and wrote ‘Sorry’, drew a sad face and then signed it.”
Then he went back to the tee to start the hole again. It wasn’t the only time in his round when McIlroy was required to dig deep. After going out in 2-under, he bogeyed the 10th but then fought back to birdie the 11th and 12th.
“I thought I did well to keep my composure and keep my concentration and finish the way I did. I’m very pleased with that. I bogeyed 10 from the middle of the fairway with a wedge in my hand, so that wasn’t so good. And reacting to that unfortunate break on 15 the way I did was pleasing. Standing on the 16th tee after the double bogey my goal was to get back to 3-under par for the day and I was able to do that. That birdie on 18 was good. It’ll make dinner taste very nice.”
This was a much more at ease McIlroy we were seeing compared to the player who was so frustrated – confused, even – a year ago on the Kent coast, who complained about the capricious nature of links golf and the potentially ruinous consequences of finding yourself in the wrong half of the draw, weather-wise. Back then he arrived at the Open with an almighty fanfare and was favourite to win. In the preamble to his opening round yesterday no such expectations existed, which was understandable given the mini-slump he’s been in, the admission a while back that he’d taken his eye off the ball, a lack of focus that led to three missed cuts in his last four tournaments including the US Open last month.
Everybody wanted to peer into McIlroy’s mind and find out what was going on in there. At his press conference on Tuesday, the one time he became terse was when the chat veered into the realms of his supposed lack of application, something he claimed was no longer an issue. It would appear he was right. A 67 was a decent statement of intent.
Clearly, he enjoyed it out there. “The golf course is a fair test, a very fair test,” he said. “On a golf course like this, the cream will rise to the top. You’re seeing that with the leaderboard.” And right there in the middle of it is one cool cat.
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Friday 24 May 2013
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