Rory McIlroy could write a chapter on the sixteenth hole in the K Club alone after another day of drama on the famous par-5 before late birdies catapulted him onto the heels of the leaders at the Horizon Irish Open.
In fact, by the time this article is written, McIlroy may find himself in the final group, if not the lead! But he was dealt a huge slice of luck on the par-5 16th – a hole becoming synonymous with his Irish Open career.
Famous for hitting a three-wood into the heart of the green in 2016, McIlroy got a taste of what it feels like to come up shy after a four-iron from the left rough cannoned off the rocks and into a watery grave. McIlroy holed out from 116 yards for eagle on Friday to reignite his chances but they were almost sunk today when his fourth from the drop zone ricocheted off the rocks but fortunately landed on the green and he almost escaped with a Houdini like par. A bogey was no disaster. He bounced back, rolling in a 15-foot birdie on 17 before two putting for birdie on 18 after corking a 346-yard drive.
The four-time major champion is always the pied piper when he is in town, but those who snook away to watch the rugby will live in regret after missing this thrilling finish that added up to a 66 and eleven-under total, one shy of Hurly Long.
“I felt good you know. I got off to a lovely start with the birdie on one took advantage of the par 5 fourth hole and I was fortunate to make par from the tee shot on seven and from there I just felt like I was giving myself a chance after chance. I converted a couple of them which was which was really nice,” said McIlroy who broke his 3-wood on the sixth tee after flicking it against a tee marker.
“I think to bounce back with the two birdies on 17 and 18 after putting the ball in the water on 16 is was huge. Overall a great day’s play. It felt very solid. I didn’t feel like I did anything very special but it added up to a great score and you know, I’ve gotten myself a lot closer to the lead.
“I was frustrated that I made bogey on 16 and I’m walking off the green I was probably was like no I should be pretty grateful that I’ve made bogey here after the fourth shot from the drop zone. I hit a good second shot that just squirted right a little bi out of that semi rough and that front pin there is very tricky and I the wind got up a little bit on those last few hole. I didn’t I play as much wind as I should have with the fourth shot and as you said, I got incredibly fortunate to hit the rock and go on the green. It’s one of those holes, just because of the design of it and I think because of my length and being able to go for it a little bit, it provides a lot of drama and I’m sure it’ll provide a bit more tomorrow.
“It hit the rock when and I actually I thought I saw it hit the rock, hit the yellow stake on the other side of the hazard and angle back in but I don’t think it did do that. It just didn’t quite clear the bank. As I said, the target for the front of that green on 16 is so small. If you are going to miss it, you should miss it left. But even if I had hit it in that left bunker there was no guarantee I was making birdie either. It is a tricky hole today.”
“Teeing off eight shots off the halfway pace, McIlroy birdied two of his opening four holes but after that not much happened as putts shaved edges, including a cruel horseshoe on the ninth. He soon burst into life, tapping in for birdie on 10 before rolling in efforts of 23 and 14 feet on 12 and 13 to get to ten-under-par.
After the bogey on 16, two closing birdies have the world number two in a share of second place and his name sticks out on the leaderboard above everybody with the overnight leaders struggling.
McIlroy’s name near the top will strike fear into the pack but in modest fashion, he doesn’t see himself as a player to be afraid of.
“I don’t think so. I don’t think of myself like that. I certainly don’t see myself as an intimidating character. I think the only way that I could have my presence be felt is if I’m actually playing with someone and they’re looking at me hitting the shots and hioling the putt it maybe affects something in that way but I don’t think so.
“The thing is, every time I get myself in contention, I don’t feel like I have to play my absolute best to get into contention. But then whenever I am in contention, I’m playing against guys that are playing at their best. When you have confidence and you’re planning your best, for any golfer, I don’t think it matters whose names ison the leaderboard.”