Out of a pure blue sky came thunder, three bogeys from nowhere to blow a hole in Rory McIlroy’s card, if not yet his challenge. He is still in the mix at the Players Championship, but the imperious game he brought to Thursday’s opening round looked in need of some repair on Friday night.
For Masters Saturday read Players Friday, horrors unforeseen across three successive holes. Just as he was at Augusta last month McIlroy was one under for his round and playing nicely heading to the seventh hole. A pulled tee shot found water down the left. His approach was short yielding the inevitable bogey.
A poor tee shot and even worse chip followed at the par-3 eighth. Another shot gone. He wasn’t done yet. The major flaw in McIlroy’s game remains his temperament. Instead of being in control of events, circumstances were now controlling him.
Form the middle of the fairway at the par-5 ninth, the longest hole on the course, the lay-up is the clever play and the surest route to birdie. McIlroy was greedy. He wanted those lost shots back in one sitting. And so he went for the green in two. Oh Rory. His ball struck a tree and found a fairway bunker, from where he found a greenside trap. He splashed out to ten feet and missed the par putt.
At four under par he now trailed leader Sergio Garcia by seven. McIlroy was scrambling. Take a breath, man. He must have been listening. His approach at ten reared violently before spinning back to the lip of hole, defying the laws of physics by staying up. He gladly took the disappointment of birdie before adding another at 12. His round had steadied.
It wasn’t pretty coming home, but the panic was over. Well almost. His tee shot at the last was straining like the blazes to find the drink down the left. Two metres was the margin of safety, enough room for McIlroy to plant his feet and stick his approach to 15 feet. The birdie putt lipped out for a 72, a fair summary of his day.
At least McIlroy lives to fight another. Not so Ryder Cup brothers Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell, who have the weekend to themselves after each finishing at two over. Luke Donald was safely through on three under, the same score as Thursday’s shock leader Roberto Castro, who followed his 63 with a 78.