What the heck is wrong with Rory McIlroy? He can’t be cursed, can he? It was only an equipment and clothing deal with Nike, not the Devil.
His public Open Championship torture is over. His Massacre at Muirfield – rounds of 79 and 75, 12 over – represents his worst score against par in 36 holes in a major. Time to retreat, recover, re-think and re-emerge to fight another day.
The defence of his US PGA Championship title is just three weeks away and before that there is the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “Really excited about that,” McIlroy said. “To play four rounds in a tournament. There’s no cut.” At least his sense of humour is still intact. He praised the support he received from the thousands of fans that followed him around the links. “It was a bit like a sympathy vote,” he said. “They were willing me to play well.”
The cry from outside the ropes by the 10th tee was not so much support for McIlroy, more a desperate plea. The Northern Irish accent that broke the silence was clearly meant to help but sometimes saying nothing is the best option. “Come on, Rory. What the hell?” But it encapsulated what everyone was thinking. There was sympathetic applause as he walked on to the tee. The atmosphere was sombre. It felt like the Muirfield crowd wanted to give him a hug and tell him everything would be okay, much like the mood of the Augusta patrons when McIlroy all but burst into tears during his Masters meltdown in 2011.
McIlroy thrashed at his driver. It made a horrible clunk. He stared in anguish as his ball veered left into the asparagus jungle. Then he stared at the club head. His body language was hangdog, his walk up the fairway felt like a funeral procession. People muttered as he past them. “He just wants this to be over and get out of here,” said one fan. “It’s such a shame, isn’t it?” said another. “Poor Rory,” came one lament. Poor Rory indeed.
No one wants to see him like this. He still walks with that youthful Tigger bounce, but the expression on his face and his body language was more like Eeyore. All he could do when he found his ball was hack it out sideways. The bogey was inevitable: five over for the round, 13 over for the championship. Driver again off the 11th tee. This time it flew right into a bunker. He advanced it five paces and saved par holing a 15-foot putt. It was nothing but cold comfort.
The rat-a-tat of camera shutters recorded every grimace of his demise. There was no hiding place. He looked shell-shocked and embarrassed. McIlroy was enduring golf’s version of being dragged through the street of London on a handcart before being hung, drawn and quartered. At least no one was throwing rotten tomatoes. There was plenty of love for the world No 2.
Driver again at the 12th. McIlroy had decided to fire at the green of the drivable par four. His playing partners, Phil Mickelson and Hideki Matsuyama laid up and McIlroy sent them ahead. It left him standing alone, staring out to sea, lost in thought if not in spirit. When the green cleared he whacked at his ball, but his right arm let go of the grip on his follow-through. He stood on the mound and watched his ball plop down in the knee-length rough again. He huffed and sighed. His poor mother watched from on top of a hill by the green.
Paging Dr Bob. Mr McIlroy, the doctor will see you now. Maybe it is time he sought the help of Dr Bob Rotella, the mind guru who helped improve the sometimes fragile confidence of Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke and turned them into major champions.
Rotella’s appointment book is open. “Anybody would love to work with Rory,” Rotella said. “Sometimes this game is so easy for someone like him. But even for them sometimes you say, ‘Where is it? Where did it go? When is it coming back?’ That’s the big question.”
McIlroy explained that his decision to start hitting drivers on the back nine was not in desperation but to practice for the coming weeks back in the States on courses where, unlike at Muirfield, “driving is going to be a big factor”. He expressed disappointment at missing the cut but took encouragement from playing the last 10 holes in one under par.
“Sometimes this game feels further away than it actually is,” McIlroy said. Maybe the comeback has already started.
Open and shut: Day two in numbers
2008 The last time Rory McIlroy failed to make the third round at the Open
15 Lee Westwood’s second-round 68 was his best in 15 rounds at a major since last year’s US Open
3 Miguel Angel Jimenez’s best Open finish is third in 2001