What makes Rory McIlroy so good? He could be the definition of an old head on a young body. The latter gives him a power game with a solid technique, the former a maturity beyond his years. But it does not matter how young or experienced you are, a triple bogey at the last hole still tastes like dirt.
On the leaderboard one minute, McIlroy dropped five strokes in the last three holes, with a double bogey at the short 16th and a seven to finish. McIlroy comes across as experienced beyond his years but some experiences just have to be taken on the chin. He signed for a 73 to be one over par, on the cut line but his further participation depended on a rules investigation last night.
Not many 19-year-olds are given the high profile of a pre-tournament press conference at a major championship. Earlier this week, McIlroy said: “I realise that I have the talent, but you need to put the hard work in to be able to make the most of it. I think it’s a combination of talent and hard work.”
It took the Ryder Cup star Anthony Kim, McIlroy’s playing partner for the first two days here and a grizzled veteran at the age of 23, all through college, over a year in the professional ranks and a boot up the backside from Tiger Woods to figure that out. Kim showed what could be done with 11 birdies in a 65 and will be a contender this weekend.
McIlroy is not alone as a young phenomenon. There is the Korean Kiwi Danny Lee, who at 18 has, like McIlroy, won on the European Tour but does not turn professional until Sunday evening. Then there is the Japanese 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa, who has won twice in his homeland. No wonder the talk has been of a teenager winning the Masters, despite the instances of a first-timer winner being limited to one in the last 74 years.
But this is to get ahead of ourselves, something these young professionals have already learnt not to do. The first question is whether McIlroy looked like he belonged among the pines and |the azaleas? For the first 33 holes at least, the answer was that he most certainly did. Putting McIlroy, Kim and Ishikawa, debutants all, in the same group and putting them in the last group of the afternoon was hardly kind.
McIlroy said he was not as nervous teeing off at the first as back at Carnoustie. His best moments were possibly the up-and-downs he made at the opening hole, to settle what nerves he had, and at the last, to dine more enjoyably at level par.
Conditions were not as favourable as they had been earlier and the group was also immediately behind the commotion that is Tiger. “I think we were playing a different course to the guys in the morning,” McIlroy said. “It got really crusty and tricky. I hit a lot of good shots that just missed greens and I was grinding to make pars.
“But par golf in major championships is usually pretty good. I haven’t shot myself out of it.” There were many more pars yesterday morning, and even a few birdies as he went out in 34, two under. With the wind swirling annoyingly around the pines, the Northern Irishman still looked calm.
At the 13th, his favourite hole already, he fired in a second shot to six feet and holed the putt for an eagle to jump up to four under. The temptation to press at Augusta, is its most dangerous weapon.
It is not just rookies who fall prey and suffer the consequences. Sometimes attacking works out fine, as it did for Kim, but McIlroy bogeyed the 14th. He got it back at the 15th before his misadventures on the 16th green, where the hole was in its most perilous location.
At the last McIlroy found the bunker on the right of the green. Not even Woods got up and down from there. But the youngster failed to get out first time and then three-putted. No one is immune from disaster here. Whether he compounded things by kicking the sand in the bunker was what the officials were looking at.