With the hopes of the locals largely pinned on Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell during the preamble to this week’s Open, scriptwriters hadn’t concocted an opening tale that depicted the pair walking off the 18th hole at Royal Portrush with double-bogey sevens. Unfortunately for McIlroy and McDowell, links golf doesn’t abide by scripts.
McDowell’s dejection in posting a treble at his closing hole was palpable. Having dropped one at his penultimate hurdle, his tee shot on 18 didn’t look too bad, innocuous enough that the former Major champion strode after it with little concern for its whereabouts. Three minutes later, GMac was turning on his heels to reload. 12 seconds after that, his ball was found.
“We had 30 people over there looking for that thing,” said a frustrated McDowell. “12 seconds after the 3 minutes was up, we found it. We found my ball.
“It was a lie where I could have gotten it in the fairway. It wasn’t a great lie. Unfortunately, it was 10 yards right of where I thought it was. For some reason, no one saw it and the marshals didn’t get an eye on it.”
It meant McDowell, who was three-under par standing on the 15th tee, finished two-over after signing for a 73. After working so hard to get in position, he stood before those gathered in the Media Centre feeling like he’d thrown it away. But at two-over par, he is still in the tournament. Imagine how he’d be feeling if he’d signed for McIlroy’s score.
A day that promised so much for the Holywood favourite got off to the worst possible start as the roars that greeted ‘Rors’ were replaced by audible gasps as his iron shot off the first tee went left, going left, before eventually coming to rest Out of Bounds. Playing partner Paul Casey admitted afterwards that he didn’t even realise the OB existed. If only Rory had the same luxurious freedom of thought.
“I actually hit the ball out of bounds right yesterday on the practice round,” McIlroy said, who snapped his fourth shot left, needing an unplayable before signing for an ugly 8 at the opening hole.
“That might have been in my head a little bit, not sort of wanting to leak it out to the right.
“It was a rough start but I felt like I showed some good resilience after that. I think I played the next 13 or 14 holes at 2-under par.
“And then really what I’m disappointed about is I undid all that great work the last few holes.”
And that was the real killer. Having got himself back into the tournament, McIlroy missed a six-footer for par at the 16th. With his ball coming to rest a mere foot from the hole in four, he missed the one after that. Four-putt. Calamity indeed.
“That was inexcusable,” McIlroy admitted, who to his credit faced the media with grace despite undoubtedly wishing the ground would swallow him whole.
“Tee shots like the first happen, you can get one riding on the wind a little too much, that’s fine.
“But lapses of concentration like that… I feel like I’ve done a really good job over the last few years of being more with it and realising, OK, just keep a cool head. And there I didn’t. I sort of hit it on the run and missed it.
“And if I look back at today, it’s probably the shot I’m disappointed about the most.”
McIlroy’s troubles were compounded by more misery at the last; his tee shot at 18 punished by a lie that refused his second shot’s advances. When eventually finding the fairway, he airmailed the green in four and failed to get up and down to sign for an eight-over par 79, a score that he was asked if there was any coming back from?
“Definitely a way back to Florida,” he smiled.
“Look, I definitely think if I can put the ball in the fairway tomorrow, I can shoot a good enough score to be around for the weekend. Obviously I’m pretty sure anyone starting with a 79 in this golf tournament doesn’t think about winning at this point. But I think I can go out there and shoot something in the mid-60s, be around for the weekend, and then try to play good from there.”
Full Scoring HERE
Irish tee times Friday
11.36 – James Sugrue (even) and Darren Clarke (even)
12.31 – Padraig Harrington (+4)
12.53 – Shane Lowry (-4)
14.15 – Graeme McDowell (+2)
15.10 – Rory McIlroy (+8)