McIlroy handed savage reversal of fortune as ‘old lady’ bites back

Rory McIlroy stood on the sunlit first tee yesterday afternoon as a young man on top of the world, and apparently without a care in it.

He had strolled off the practice green, rolling his hips and chewing gum, with studied insouciance. "So," he seemed to be saying. "What exactly is the problem here?" By the time he returned to the clubhouse, however, he had been inwardly reduced to some haggard old Lear, bellowing back at the tempest. Flat-footed, puffing out his cheeks, the boy who had never required more than 69 shots here, who had hurtled round in 63 the previous day, could now count 80 tender new bruises on his ego.

His ambitions lay strewn across the Old Course. It had been a sadistic revenge. Never mind all this talk about "the old lady". The fact was that McIlroy had only ever tackled this crazed bitch wearing her muzzle. And she sank her fangs mercilessly deep: four over for the front nine, four over for the back. As he approached the final green, the few souls still persevering in the galleries could be heard wincing as they remarked on the trio's scoreboard. His drive had nestled under the green, in the Valley of Sin. And McIlroy, by now plainly punch-drunk, failed to reach even the ridge with his putter, the ball rolling away at least as far again. He regrouped to leave himself a yard or so to salvage par – and even then his 80th stroke rolled around the cup before finally consenting to end the agony.

He had been fully aware that this would be an afternoon to take down the sails, to get to work with the oars. For a lad of 21, he is unusually seasoned in pragmatic links play. He was just 16, after all, when he shot 61 to break the course record at Royal Portrush. Here he had vowed to "run those shots into the greens and keep the ball below the wind". As the gale keened across the Fife coast, however, that policy proved wholly impractical without a spade and a miner's lamp.

Earlier McIlroy had exchanged high-fives with his compatriot, Graeme McDowell, on his return from a morning round of 68, which took him to five under for the tournament. For McIlroy himself a nice, steady 72, just this once, would do very nicely, thank you.

And he began beautifully. Admittedly his first drive, in marked contrast to the announcement of his name, was received in critical silence; and his second shot left him an awkward descent to the hole. But he polished off his par, and gave himself birdie chances on the next two holes, as well, before hitting an immaculate drive off the fourth. And then the klaxon went, for the suspension of play, and he sprawled upon his back in comic distress.

Already, perhaps, he sensed a malevolent tweak of his nerves. To have started so serenely, as the storm balked the air, had seemed to reiterate his comfort with the giddiest altitudes of his vocation. During the idle hour that followed, however, the contrast in the caprice of his environment plainly gnawed at his youthful certainty.

On the resumption, the difference in McIlroy was abruptly apparent. He chipped into a hollow on the edge of the green, whacked his first putt fully 15 feet past the hole, and duly required two more. A first blemish on his tournament, then, and his prospects of redeeming it on the next, hitherto the tamest of par fives, were lost as the wind flung his drive left, and his approach into dense rough on the fringe. He hacked out and left a difficult birdie putt 18 inches short. Suddenly McIlroy looked full of doubt, pulling away even as he was about to tap in, sensing a mischievous tremor in the ball.

On the sixth, his drive instead veered right, leaving him stabbing out of shaggy rough; left a chip to the flag, he gave it too much grip, and two putts snagged him back to seven under. The next was pure purgatory: rough, bunker, a brave second putt curling round the lip. Six under. All of a sudden he only had a shot in hand on McDowell – and was fully six behind Louis Oosthuizen. It was slipping away so quickly. On the par-three eighth, his tee-shot swayed behind a gorse bush. Five under. Scraping together a birdie chance on nine, he missed from 12 feet.

As it happened, that seamless swing would operate pretty felicitously on the back nine. But it is harnessed to a rather more porous short game, and when he snatched at an awkward bogey putt on 11, you sensed that he had waved the white flag. It was proving a tough afternoon for everyone, of course, but for McIlroy it was proving something closer to a loss of innocence. On 13, there would be a brave putt to rescue par, but it stopped cruelly on the lip. Ludicrous as it seemed, he must now have begun wondering if he might even miss the cut.

On 15, he slipped to one under. He could not afford any more mistakes. But the gale was at last relenting, and anyhow he would soon have the sanctuary of the buildings guarding the final holes, solemn and becalmed as a cathedral close. And he wandered back through the shadows of the smiling, villainous evening, wondering what had happened to his Eden.

Guide to day three of The Open



Mostly cloudy, with some Sunny breaks and showers in the afternoon. Average wind speed will range between 14mph and 17mph, with gusts of up to 35mph possible. Very good visibility.


Mostly cloudy, with rain highly likely thoughout the day. Average wind speeds of 14mph and gusts of 29mph probable. Very good visibility.


Mostly cloudy, with some Sun and showers intermitently. Average wind speed 10mph and low chances of any significants increases. Good visibility.

TV coverage


BBC One: 1000-1200 BST

BBC One: 1210-1715 BST

BBC Two: 1715-1930 BST

England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'