Rory McIlroy is nothing if not compelling. Even the bad stuff is unmissable. He began his WGC-Cadillac Challenge like a drain, taking 40 strikes to reach the turn.
Thereafter, he engaged train mode for a spell, firing three birdies and an eagle in the space of five holes to bring a sense of order to his card. The bogey at the last was perhaps a fitting end, and he needed a nasty ten-footer to seal that for a 73.
At one over par McIlroy closed seven off the clubhouse lead held by Ryan Moore. It might have been worse. Moore stood eight under on the 18th tee before succumbing to the water down the left of the Blue Monster’s signature hole.
McIlroy rinsed his from the middle of the fairway on the same hole. At least Moore took the more conventional route, wet off the tee.
On a positive note there is no cut to miss this week. With JB Holmes rattling along at nine under par with two to play, victory appears a long shot. McIlroy won’t mind that so much if he can find the consistency he showed at the start of the year in Abu Dhabi and Dubai where he finished second and first respectively.
Starting at the par-five 10th, McIlroy set the tone by finding sand off the tee. His ball landed on an upslope, making the rescue awkward. Nevertheless, he had a 15-footer for birdie but came up short.
From the middle of the 11th fairway he was a metre shy with his approach, his ball coming to rest under the lip of the bunker protecting the front of the green. He did well to escape to 12 feet from there and walked off with his first bogey of the day.
The next came at the 17th after picking out the fairway bunker from the tee. It got worse at 18, a double the penalty for rinsing his approach, again from the middle of the fairway.
Contrast McIlroy’s woes with the free-swinging Holmes, who holed just about everything over the same outward nine. Holmes started birdie, birdie, eagle and was six under at the turn, out in 30, 10 shots better than the world No 1.
Moore was none too shabby either. Out in 31, he began the back nine with a hat-trick of birdies to reach eight under par. Moore has the kind of swing most commonly seen among golfers who hit the municipal every now and then. It goes straight up, then at the top of the back swing the hands drop dramatically and the club loops through on the inside in a remarkable demonstration of biomechanics.
A more vivid contrast with McIlroy’s metronomic hammer you could not wish to see, yet he was the one thumbing his nose at the Blue Monster, and in the kind of blustery conditions that, according to golfing convention, should provide the stiffest test. For McIlroy they were.
McIlroy was short with his birdie putt at the par-five first, missing what is ordinarily for him a bread and butter steal against par. Holmes was not necessarily peppering the flags but he was slotting the ball home like Wayne Rooney from the penalty spot.
McIlroy perked up considerably with back-to-back birdies at the fourth and fifth, a signal perhaps that the rhythm was returning. Baby steps. His approach at the sixth was short and right, coming to rest on the lip of the greenside bunker in cabbage. He hacked it out to 12 feet but never threatened the hole with his par putt and was back to three over.
From the same distance at the seventh he found the middle of the cup for birdie and at the par-five eighth was past the pin in two and drained the putt from 22 feet for his eagle.
Spare a thought for Stephen Gallacher, who took 46 strokes over the back nine to close on 12 over par. He started the run for home with a double and ended it with a quadruple bogey after twice finding the water at 18.
Phil Mickelson, for the first time in 190 rounds, signed for a card that did not feature one birdie. He won’t have trouble sleeping however after a 74, however.
The laying down of his broomhandle putter was not the trauma envisaged for the 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott.
Playing his first tournament of 2015 with a conventional putter, the first time in four years he has gone with the short stick, Scott was four under par after 12 holes. Though three shots went over his next two holes, he was one under with three to play, a position he would happily have taken at the start.Reuse content