independent

Friday 18 April 2014

'I've taken my eye off ball' -- Rory

RORY McILROY certainly knows how to win, but Holywood's world No 1 could learn from Padraig Harrington when it comes to coping with frustration, disappointment and defeat.

McIlroy and Harrington were prominent among the high-profile victims of the carnage yesterday afternoon at the BMW PGA Championship, as gusting winds turned the West Course at Wentworth into a snarling monster.

Both shot calamitous 79s to miss the cut -- McIlroy by eight strokes on nine-over-par and Harrington by 10. Yet, the way they handled one of their toughest days on Tour was markedly different.

As ever, one had to admire McIlroy, at age 23, for having the guts not just to face the media, but also for his candid admission that "I may have taken my eye off the ball a little bit" recently.

Just 19 days before he defends his US Open crown in San Francisco, he vowed: "I'll have to go and really work hard and try to get it (his game) back to the level that it was leading into the Masters."

Asked precisely how he'd taken his eye of the ball, McIlroy went on: "I don't know, maybe just not practising as hard as I might have been.

"I feel like I've put the work in, but I'll think long and hard about it tonight, have a good chat with my team and make sure I'm ready for the next few events."

Missing the cut at back-to-back events for the first time since 2008, and posting his worst round in a regular European Tour event since a second-round 83 at the South African Open in December 2007, was of less concern than the manner of McIlroy's mid-round meltdown on Thursday and once again yesterday.

Neither Sawgrass, where he missed the weekend at the Players Championship, nor Wentworth fit McIlroy's eye or his uninhibited, free-flowing style of play.

It's his ability to deal with that disadvantage and still maintain a solid level of performance which eventually will determine if McIlroy can be described as the best player in the world, regardless of his ranking.

He showed stunning mental strength and resilience to recover from his final-round 80 at the 2011 Masters to win at Congressional just 70 days later, but McIlroy's shoulders can slump and his spirits sag too easily on the golf course.

For example, McIlroy had precious little 'Tiger' in his tank during Sunday's final round of the Masters -- the fight plainly had been knocked out of him during Saturday's nightmare front nine at Augusta.

Thursday's club-throwing incident on Wentworth's 12th fairway offered irrefutable evidence of McIlroy's frustration as he dropped four shots in five holes ... yet there was even more evidence yesterday of the youngster's difficulty in dealing with adversity.

practice

From the moment he stumbled to a double-bogey six at eight, McIlroy would drop nine shots in a nightmarish eight-hole spell which cannot be attributed to a lack of big-match practice since the Masters.

Nobody's suggesting that McIlroy didn't try. Indeed, raw pride prompted him to make birdie on Wentworth's closing hole. "I was really wanting to make four at the last to break 80."

Yet his glum demeanour during those eight dark holes contrasted sharply with the determination exuding from Harrington's every pore regardless of the mortifying triple-bogey six which wrecked his tournament at hole two on Thursday, or the slapstick seven he incurred at the eighth yesterday.

The Dubliner has even more reason than McIlroy to dread playing at Wentworth, whose bumpy, unpredictable greens are anathema to a man desperately trying to build confidence in his putter.

Yet no matter what the West Course or a wicked wind threw at Harrington, he still stood, shoulders square, to every challenge thrown at him yesterday. Why? "Because every shot counts. You never know when you are going to need it," he explained.

"You never know when one shot you play or one putt will stand to you, regardless of the circumstances in which it is played.

"If you want the absolute answer, I hit two balls into the hazard on the second hole of a tournament and I managed to hit the chip shot of my life and one of the best putts of my life," Harrington added in clear reference to the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie.

While he and caddie Ronan Flood relished the ice cream cones supplied by wife Caroline on 17, Harrington was still fighting at the finish, despite three bogeys on the final four holes.

"You'll be surprised the circumstances in which you gain confidence from the way you played a shot," he added. "For example, I hit a great chip shot off a tight lie into the last and I'll take that confidence with me to the next chip I play."

McIlroy will spend the weekend practicing at Wentworth as Luke Donald, lying tied second on eight-under, four behind England's 36-hole leader James Morrison, presses for the top-eight finish which would propel him past the Ulsterman and back to the top of the world.

Though his game needs a few days' work before next week's Memorial, only maturity and experience will bring the strength he needs to handle the grim days.

BMW PGA Championship,

Live, BBC1, 2.15; BBC2, 4.50

• Jason Dufner maintained his phenomenal recent form with a second round 64 to lead the Crowne Plaza Invitational by two shots on 11-under-par from Zach Johnson.

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