Sunday 26 February 2017

Ishikawa delivers a 'message of hope'

Karl MacGinty at Doral

RYO ISHIKAWA (19) is known as 'the Bashful Prince' in Japan. Yesterday at Doral he showed uncommon courage, resolve and a remarkable understanding of the duties of sporting royalty as his native land was struck by catastrophe.

Ishikawa learned of the horrifying news from Japan shortly after he awoke. One can only imagine the teenager's state of mind as he tried frantically to contact his parents in Tokyo. Thankfully, he'd learn they were safe by email.

The message from home was simple: don't worry, everyone's okay, go out and play your golf. And that's precisely what the teenager did in the morning, somehow steeling himself to produce two birdies over the final six holes of his weather-interrupted opening round for a 65 at the Cadillac World Championship of Golf.

Ishikawa revealed he had been inspired by the thought of "providing hope and encouragement" for his countrymen at this bleak time.

"It's not possible to block something of this magnitude out completely, but I understand that in the position I am in, together with other star athletes from Japan, we can provide encouragement and hope for the people by doing my job," he said.

Ishikawa has performed many astonishing feats in the past four years, including the lowest round ever, a 58, on one of the world's major professional circuits.

Yet, given the appalling circumstances, yesterday morning's march into outright second place, just one stroke behind first-round leader Hunter Mahan, must rank as highly as any.

"As you can imagine, what happened in Japan was beyond being a distraction for me," he explained. "I'm worried for the whole country. The fact that I was finally able to communicate with my parents did help me feel so much better.

"I just tried to focus, but it was a battle out there for me," he added ... and the emotional trauma would take its inevitable toll when Ishikawa returned to the course and recorded a four-over-par second round of 76.

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy led the Irish challenge in a tie for fourth on seven-under after his second-round 69. Padraig Harrington shared 11th on five-under after his putter, like McIlroy's, went a tad cold during his 71.

Graeme McDowell believes he saw the shape of things to come from playing companions Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods yesterday.

He was especially impressed with the astonishing distance Mickelson is striking his draw shots in the run-up to next month's defence of his Green Jacket at the Masters, despite three dropped-shots by Lefty as they completed the final three holes of their first round in the morning.

This included a double-bogey seven at eight, which played downwind yesterday. Mickelson's sliced drive bounced off a cart path into water before he hit his approach into the pond shy of the green as the Californian slumped to an opening 73.

Yet after playing with Tiger twice in Shanghai last November, twice again as he strode to victory over Woods in Sherwood last December and again yesterday, McDowell's verdict on the former world No 1 was most eagerly sought.

Sagas

"I've had an interesting time in that respect," the US Open champion agreed after he and Woods both signed for first-round 70s. "I think it's very interesting to play with him and watch one of golf's greatest sagas unfold.

"He controlled the ball off the tee, which has been his weakness of late. He only hit a couple of wild ones. In Shanghai he didn't look as if he could keep the ball on the planet off the tee; at Chevron he looked in control off the tee, but didn't putt good. Generally, I thought his game looked pretty sharp here."

Yet Tiger hit a horrific tee shot at two in his second round, smother-hooking it so badly it flew just 122 yards down the fairway. Then his drive popped up in the air at 14, his ball travelling just 180 yards.

Woods endured greater frustration, however, on the greens during the second-round 74 which left him on level-par, nine off Mahan's 36-hole lead.

The scrupulously honest McDowell called a one-shot penalty on himself at the short ninth, where his ball moved after address as he putted out with his third stroke. The penalty was confirmed by referee Andy McFee in the scorer's tent, a 73 leaving McDowell on one-under.

The Cadillac Championship,

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