Rory McIlroy ditches Nike putter after just one day

Switch made little difference for world number one in Abu Dhabi

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The Independent Online

One Nike putter for sale in Abu Dhabi, used only once. See Rory McIlroy for details. Talk about being a hostage to fortune. The 125 million dollar question, how will McIlroy get on with his new clubs, was answered when his new putter did not make the bag for the second day. In came old faithful, Scotty Cameron.

As it happened the move made no difference. McIlroy’s putting did not improve. Neither did his driving. If his absence from the weekend were not bad enough after a second successive 75 saw him miss the cut at the HSBC championship by four shots, Tiger Woods copped a two-shot penalty for a rules transgression, taking him a shot the wrong side of safety for the first time at a European Tour event. Thus did the tournament, led by Justin Rose on eight under par, lose its big ticket sellers, the world no.1 and no.2, after two days.

McIlroy gave us the good, the bad and the ugly; wild hooks, blocked shots and the odd one straight down the pipe. A snatched word with his coach Michael Bannon on the range before his round revealed a degree of apprehension, but not about the clubs, rather his lack of game time. For four of the seven weeks since his last outing McIlroy did not touch a club. He has holidayed in all parts from Aspen Colorado to Sydney Australia. Good luck to the lad. After his year of plenty he needed a break. Now he needs patience.

A full week in Dubai leading up to this event conned him into thinking he was ready to go. The crucible of competition told him otherwise. The temporary dumping of the Nike putter was a desperate shot at making the cut with a familiar friend. “The greens I’ve been practicing on in Florida are a lot faster than these. The Nike putter is great on that. It’s just a little light on these greens, so it’s a weight issue more than anything else. I can feel the head of the one I used to day a little better. Yesterday I didn’t’ feel I was getting the ball to the hole.”

Woods was undone by his unfamiliarity with rule 25ii. He was warned at the 11 hole by the European Tour’s chief referee, Andy McPhee, what might be coming after he took a drop for an embedded ball on rough ground at the side of the fifth fairway. The difficulty for Woods was the material that had clamped his ball was sand, from which there is no relief. Mud, yes. Sand, no. Though he called the third member of the stellar group, Martin Kaymer, to verify that his ball was indeed embedded, which the German duly did, neither knew the rule.

Woods declined an offer to go back to check the site, even though the penalty took him from the safety of one-over par, through the trap door to three over. “I had a conversation with Tiger as he came off the 11 tee, because I was aware of his position score-wise, and wanted him to know that there was the possibility that a penalty had been incurred and that might affect his strategy going forward.” 

McPhee was alerted to the problem via a journalist following the group who sought clarification on the ruling. Woods had fought back from a wretched start that saw him drop four shots in the opening five holes. By the 16 hole he had clawed the shots back to stand at level par. Even with the penalty he would have made the cut, but a dropped shot at 17 proved critical. His birdie putt at the last slid an inch the wrong side of the hole.

“I thought my ball was embedded. So I called Martin over. He agreed. Evidently its sandy based and doesn’t call for an embedded ball there. Evidently I broke a rule, so Andy gave me a penalty and I missed the cut. I didn’t get off to a good start and battled back to where I thought I could play the weekend. I thought I might have a chance to post two low rounds. But I won’t be able to."

Justin Rose said the credit for his flying start to the year goes to his coach for his improved swing and the flexible soles of his shoes, which take the pressure off his back. Rose’s soft-shoe shuffle through the Abu Dhabi morning closed with a birdie at the last for a 69.

Rose plays this week and next before taking a three-week break to fine-tune ahead of the build-up to the Masters. There does not appear to be too much to work on. “I feel like I can take a couple of weeks off and pick it back up. The motor patterns are pretty well learned at this point. I’ve changed the way I move through the ball, and these shoes that I wear with the flexibility in the sole really help me. If I wear a really rigid shoe I can’t turn as well on it.”