Saturday 20 December 2014

Golf: Familiar frustration for McIlroy and Woods

William S Callahan

Published 10/03/2014 | 02:30

Rory McIlroy plays a bunker shot on the first hole during the final round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy plays a bunker shot on the first hole during the final round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

THERE was a distinct sense of déjà vu at Doral yesterday as for the second Sunday in succession Rory McIlroy gave a passable impression of a man running in quicksand and Tiger Woods once again was assailed by searing back pain.

After rekindling his hopes of winning the Cadillac Championship for the eighth time with a superb 66 on Saturday, defending champion Woods appeared to be in trouble yesterday from the moment he hit his opening tee shot deep into the right rough.

Tiger rated Saturday's round even higher than his third round 65 seven days earlier at The Honda. Yet any hope he had of catching winner Patrick Reed was scuppered as the World No 1, clearly struggling, made bogey at the third, fourth and sixth holes.

Reed, an outstanding 23-year-old prospect from Texas, soared into the World's Top-25 on the back of his third PGA Tour win in eight months. He led through 54 holes in each of them, a gutsy final round 72 left him at four-under and one clear of a class field in only his second World Golf Championship.

Though Woods quit after 11 holes on Sunday at The Honda, he bravely soldiered-on through the pain-barrier to the finish yesterday and a six-over par 78. Tiger appeared to endure more discomfort taking putts than making full shots, which helps explain his failure to make any birdies. Meanwhile, the long-term implications of this injury are not good.

As Jamie Donaldson of Wales brilliantly nibbled at Reed's lead during his final round 70 before settling for a share of second with Bubba Watson (68), Graeme McDowell's hopes of a top-five finish were scuppered by a disappointing bogey-bogey finish.

The Portrush man pulled his tee shot into the water at 18 as he completed back-to-back rounds of 73 at the weekend. Still, McDowell, in a tie for ninth, completed his third top-10 finish in four events.

Remarkably, some 300 balls were lost in the lakes which play such an imposing part in architect Gil Hanse's $200m redesign of this course for Donald Trump.

The unfair nature of some of the holes was underscored when Miguel Angel Jimenez's fine approach to 18 rolled off the edge of the green and into the water, causing the 50-year-old to throw his fairway metal to the ground in a rare display of temper. The ensuing double-bogey six (for a 75) sent the Spaniard to three-over and out of the top-10.

Like many of those golf balls, McIlroy sank without trace. Within two strokes of the lead on even par last Friday evening, the 24-year-old wrapped up a miserable weekend with a wayward 74 as he slumped to 25th on five-over.

There was little hint of the frustrations which lay ahead for McIlroy as he opened his final round with birdie, courtesy of a neat up-and-down from the front bunker at this relatively facile par five.

Yet his putter turned ice-cold and McIlroy could make no further headway. The tone was set as he let two decent birdie chances went a-begging at the third and fifth holes, the youngster wincing visibly as he shaved the hole from 14 feet and 15 feet respectively.

Perhaps the most telling indicators of McIlroy's form over the weekend were pedantic pars he made at the par five eighth, 10th and 12th yesterday.

Mind you, this was considerably better than the ugly double-bogey sevens he made at eight and 10 on Saturday as McIlroy stumbled to the third round 75 that left him three-over and seven off Reed's lead through 54 holes.

After making birdie at each of the four par fives on Thursday, McIlroy was an aggregate four-over for those holes in his final three rounds.

Scot Stephen Gallacher, McIlroy's conqueror in Dubai last month, underlined just how favourable conditions were for scoring at Doral yesterday as he made four birdies in the same eight hole stretch.

Gallacher's pace would slow on the back nine but he still signed for a 69 and a top-six finish on one-over..

Though scoring improved over an idyllic weekend, there was precious little for McIlroy to smile about as he made bogey out of the rear greenside bunker at nine to turn in even-par.

After dropping another shot out of another greenside trap at 14, McIlroy spoiled a superb 315 yards drive at the short par four 16th by taking three to get down from the back fringe for a frustrating par .

In keeping with his disconcerting weekend at Doral, the 24-year-old's approach to 18 went into the lake, leading to a finishing bogey.

McIlroy must do remedial work on his swing with coach Michael Bannon before his next outing at the Houston Open in three weeks' time if he's to boost his confidence and morale sufficiently to challenge for a third Major title at the Masters a week later.

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