Rory McIlroy, one of only two Irish players left in the field at the Honda Classic, has defended his putting after criticism by former Open Champion David Duval and controversial TV analysist Brandel Chamblee.
McIlroy recorded 29 putts, breaking 30 putts in a round for a first time this new PGA Tour season, en route to a second straight Honda Classic two-over par 72 for a four-over tally but assured of just making the cut.
The bright but very windy conditions played havoc with the game’s best including two of the the past three Honda champions in Rickie Fowler (71 & 76) and Padraig Harrington (76 & 76) who both missed the five-over par cut. Shane Lowry made the weekend on the mark after carding a second round 74 while Graeme McDowell endured a torrid time as he returned a seven over par round on day two which saw him miss out. Seamus Power was struggling to make the weekend from day one (after a +7 score) and also missed the cut after his found over second round left him on eleven over for the tournament.
McIlroy capped his round with two birdies, including starting his round from the 10th and holing an 11-footer.
Though sticking out like a dog’s hind leg was a triple bogey ‘6’ at the par-3 17th or the eighth hole of his round when he found the water guarding the green with a 5-iron shot and then found a rear greenside bunker with his third.
McIlroy then delighted in holing a testy six-footer for par at the last.
“It was another tough day out there with the greens a little firmer and with the wind not making it easy and very much like playing an Open Championship venue but here in Florida,” he said.
“It just seemed that when we had a right-to-left wind the pin would be on the right and then vice-versa, so it was hard to get it close.
“But I was proud to ground it out especially after the ‘6’on 17 and to play a good 10 holes after that, and hole that six-footer on my last was very pleasing.”
Unbeknownst to McIlroy, given his early second round tee-time Duval, now also an analysist on The Golf Channel , along with Chamblee who won a lowly Tour event in 1998 and then lost his playing card in 2003 to take up a career being mostly critical in front of the camera, took McIlroy’s putting and his putting coach, Phil Kenyon to task.
“Since, he started working with Phil Kenyon in 2016 you can see it hasn’t worked,” Chamblee said bluntly.
“Maybe he looks like he’s got a bit too much tension in his setup, he looks a little too bent over to me. Maybe he looks a little too wooden and carries the grip end a little bit more towards the hole.”
“All of those things certainly stand out to me but he kind of looked that way in 2011, 12, 13, 14 as well – but he was a better putter then and he’s a worse putter now. So at some point you need to ask yourself, what do I need to do differently?”
“He’s been working with the same guy for two years and these are big years – the prime of his career – and he’s letting things slide away because he’s missing a lot of makeable putts.”
Duval added: “It seems like there’s still too much pull and drag. If you look at the freedom of Tiger and Rickie – it’s a beautiful stroke and a beautiful release. It just seems so mechanical, so forced. The freedom and beauty with which he swings a golf club and drives the ball, it doesn’t match. Something’s just a little bit off.”
McIlroy responded directly to the criticism.
“My putting feels good. I think probably I’m pretty sure I was strokes gained today on the greens,” he said.
“I held some nice ones when I needed to. It was nice to hole that 6-footer at the last to guarantee being in for the weekend. I feel after the last couple of weeks in California on the poa annua, I started to second guess myself with reads and lines. Just a little more commitment, a little more trust over the last couple days.”
“So, it’s not like I am going home losing sleep, geez, no,” he said. “Not at all. I think I’ve made, as I said, I’ve made big strides in my putting, and I’ll have days like I had on Thursday where I might lose a stroke to the field but I’ll have days like today where I probably gained over a shot on the field.”
“I feel good about it.”
“Mechanically it’s much better than it has been, and it’s just, again, it’s more of a mind-set and being committed and trust what I’m doing out there.”
American Luke List (66) enjoyed the early clubhouse lead at four-under par and was joined by Jamie Lovemark at the top of the leaderboard.