“The One True Test” is the motto of the Open Championship and, on a day when you could witness the world No.1 hitting an ugly shank and the world No.4 smashing the head off his 3-wood in a fit of agonised frustration, you couldn’t really argue with it.
While nowhere near as bad as the miserable conditions of Friday, this was another day of grinding toil for the globe’s greatest golfers which, at times pushed them beyond their limits. Rory McIlroy reached his breaking point at the 16th yesterday after three-and-a-half hours of torture at Royal Troon which saw his bid for the title end with a two-over 73 that brought him back to level par.
The frustration had built and built on the greens as putt after putt failed to drop, but the final snap took place on the 16th fairway just short of the ditch when an errant shot was followed by an exasperated throw which saw the club follow the lead of its wielder and lose its head.
“The club head came loose on it earlier in the week. I had to get the head re-glued. So it was probably partly to do with that and partly the throw as well,” said McIlroy afterwards. “I let one go right on the previous hole, the 3-iron, and I did the exact same thing there. So it was basically just a bad swing. No-one likes to make the same mistake twice, and that’s basically what happened.”
While host broadcaster Sky Sports didn’t show the incident until two holes later, and neglected to bring it up in their post-round interview, it was a hot talking point on social media, with some making barbed allusions to McIlroy’s comments earlier in the week that it wasn’t his job to “grow the game”.
It could result in a fine from the European Tour for the Northern Irishman, who famously launched his 3-iron into a lake at the Doral last year during the WGC Cadillac Championship. On that occasion the course’s owner Donald Trump had a scuba diver retrieve it and the club is now on display there but the ruptured 3-wood will be back in the bag today.
“The truck’s here, so I’ll have it reshafted tonight, and all will be well in the morning,” said McIlroy, who ironically ended up crafting a birdie chance on that 16th, though like many yesterday, it slipped away.
The 27-year-old has been fiddling with his putting grip this year and suffered a day of woe on greens which had been left untouched by the keepers yesterday morning.
“When you’re putting in 25-mile-an-hour winds and the greens are a lot slower than you’re used to, these things can happen,” he said.
“When they don’t cut the greens or roll the greens, they can get a little bit, not bumpy, they’re decent surfaces, but the two putts that I missed early on, I just wasn’t comfortable over them. I sort of read them, and then I’m thinking, do you factor the wind in, do you not?
“So I was just a little bit indecisive over them.”
Starting his third round eight shots off the lead, McIlroy knew a good start was imperative if he was to make any kind of impression on “moving day”.
A bogey at the first and two more by the time he reached the sixth tee was the sobering actuality. As he turned into the back nine one-over par for the day the writing was on the wall and the possibility of him lifting a second Claret Jug this evening had vanished. “I’ve been saying all week that you need to get off to a good start on this golf course, and you need to be under par early, and I wasn’t able to do that,” said McIlroy.
Meanwhile, world No.1 Jason Day lamented the fact that he still hasn’t managed a birdie on the back nine all week after yet another failure to launch yesterday as a 71 kept him at one-over par.
Four birdies on the front nine had him motoring, but they were all steadily cancelled out one by one on the road home as a quartet of bogeys left him back where he started.
“The back is tough. I’ve got sand in my eyes still from the 18th hole, so that’s a nice one,” said the Australian moments after a bogey at the last completed another frustrating day. “I could have been six or seven-under on the front side. Then turned the back side, and the tenth hole with the bogey kind of stopped my momentum.”
“It’s obviously very hard to get momentum back up. I haven’t had a birdie on the back side this week. It’s been terrible. That’s why I’m not in the tournament right now.”
As for that grisly shank from the long grass at 12, Day said with a chuckle: “Everyone talks but it’s not that bad. It was a bad shot, but not that bad. I can understand why; we’ve got three layers on. We’ve got wind we’re dealing with and hitting it out of the rough.”