James Lawton: McIlroy's prodigious promise faces the assassin in the azaleas as majors are so hard to gather
Saturday 09 April 2011
What sweet agony it must have been for young Rory McIlroy returning to work down Magnolia Drive yesterday, one shoe in heaven after his brilliant opening 65 and another in that bit of hell occupied by all those who one day dare to be great and then sooner or later fret their way back into the margins of major golf.
McIlroy, like his European boy prodigy predecessor Sergio Garcia, is also treading on the potential fault line of a flawed putting stroke.
It is the ultimate killing defect of course, the one that eventually sees off some of the greatest, including Tom Watson and, thus far at least, has stopped Garcia from exploiting the panache that re-surfaced again in the early Masters action.
Given the drawn-out nature of the pain that overtakes and sinks, so often without trace, the most adventurous of the front-runners, you can only marvel at the capacity of Colin Montgomerie to risk fresh punishment as he sits in the TV booth at Augusta, explaining to the world the slips of the mind that separate the losers from the men who get to wear the Green Jacket.
On balance you have to believe it is the kind of assignment that might have been conceived by the Marquis de Sade.
If McIlroy fails to stretch his early touch and nerve into tomorrow afternoon, how many demons does Monty unearth, how many old wounds does he re-open when he seeks to explain the nature of such a denouement?
It is of course precisely this which makes major tournament golf so compelling – and why the group of extremely gifted European challengers, led by Lee Westwood, need to be so circumspect when they are asked to chart the meaning of Tiger Woods' vertiginous descent all the way down to the status of second favourite.
We can only hope that young McIlroy lasts better than a far more obscure challenger at the 1958 Open at Royal Lytham, Leopoldo Ruiz.
The Argentine also shot a blistering 65, on the second day, and those who saw him do it swore that never had a golfer announced himself quite so luminously. As was the case with McIlroy on the first day this week, everything he did seemed to turn to gold. Desmond Hackett of the Daily Express, the most famous of sports scribes, sat down to his old typewriter with a popular tune of the day in his ears.
"Every little breeze seems to whisper Louise," went the song, most famously rendered by Maurice Chevalier. So, naturally, Hackett wrote, "Here in the light airs of Royal Lytham yesterday it was as though every little breeze seemed to whisper Ruiiiize."
Not for long, however. Ruiz failed to make the play-off when he misfired to a triple bogey. It is the other side of Rory's glory, of course, and among some astonishing acts of precocious brilliance he also knows the kind of misery that comes when a brilliant game becomes unhinged, something experienced most horrifically by the teenaged Garcia at Carnoustie in 1999, when he fell into his mother's arms after shooting a first-round 89.
Such a brutal possibility is the assassin always ready to leap out of the azaleas and the Sky producers might be wise to steer the flow of reflection away from the time their star analyst was savaged by the force of the 21-year-old Tiger 14 years ago.
All of golf has the most vivid recollection of the Woods onslaught, which brought him victory by 12 strokes, but less well remembered, perhaps thankfully, is the degree of pleasure the young champion took in the discomfort of his third round playing partner Monty.
Maybe unwisely the perennial winner of the European Order of Merit had warned the Tiger on the eve of the tournament that he might face some hard days now he had joined the big professionals. Montgomerie explained that it took a little time to live in such a rarified atmosphere. So of course he was obliged to tee off in the company of Woods on the third day, after shooting rounds of 72 and 67 and trailing the leader by just three strokes.
Later, after Woods had produced a nine-shot swing against Montgomerie on his way to a 12-stroke victory, the new champion was asked if it gave him particular satisfaction that it was his erstwhile critic who had been forced to march so glumly in his footsteps. Woods delayed his answer with comic timing, then declared, along with a smile that went from ear to ear, "Big time."
McIlroy may not have developed quite such a coldly destructive streak but it is no doubt something he will have to develop over the next few years, ideally over the next few days. His many admirers insist that it is much closer than some others think when they pinpoint weaknesses that can emerge under the hardest pressure. But then this brings us back to Monty, sitting in front of the cameras and waiting for the harsh question about how a player strides out for his first major – or how he falls back, marooned away from the cutting edge of a great tournament.
Monty will always have to live with the estimation of many that he is one of the most talented players never to land a major. It will hardly be an asset if he is asked to define the way a talented golfer quite becomes a sure-fire winner.
It almost provokes a compassionate plea on behalf of the man who may just be asked to define the making – or not – of Rory McIlroy. Something along the lines of technical questions please. There are, after all, only so many bad places a man should be asked to go.
Ferguson should have hit shameful Rooney in pocket
Predictably, and not without making some valid points, Sir Alex Ferguson and his former rabble rouser Gary Neville have rallied to the cause of Wayne Rooney.
Ferguson and Neville are certainly right about the need for the Football Association to set clear guidelines as to what is beyond toleration, which at least would include the most outrageously relentless cheating.
Ferguson is also correct to point out that a blogging senior Wolverhampton police officer might be a lot better off clearing up some local business rather than cherry-picking hot issues of celebrity misbehaviour.
However, what Ferguson and Neville need to do most pressingly is step back for a second and reflect on the possibility that having one of the nation's leading professional sportsmen bawling obscenities into the living rooms of the nation shames everyone attached to the game.
Rather than appeal on his behalf, United should have stripped him of two weeks' wages, which, lest we forget, is not far short of half a million pounds.
Why writers must vote for Wilshere
One impetus for the Professional Footballers' Association's Player of the Year awards was that they know best – or at least more than the rival voters of the Football Writers' Association.
In which case you have to wonder how it is that Jack Wilshere, a runaway winner in any logical analysis, surely, does not even make the senior category. In a thin year, it is true there are not so many choices but the elevation of the talented but desperately spasmodic Samir Nasri above his young clubmate is particularly bizarre. Nemanja Vidic and Gareth Bale no doubt have their supporters and if Rio Ferdinand could get on the field a few more times and play as he did at Stamford Bridge the other night he might just make a late run of his own.
However, in the old days the FWA dinner could always be relied upon to provide at least one good punch-up and various disruptions in the neighbourhood of Soho. Hopefully, this time it will throw in the bonus of a little sweet reason. The vote here, certainly, says Jack by a mile.
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