King Rory dethroned as survival hopes are put to sword
Rory McIlroy is not a 'Game of Thrones' fan despite the worldwide popularity of the epic television series which is largely filmed in his native Northern Ireland.
Just as well. If yesterday's events at Portstewart Golf Club in round two of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open were being adapted for an episode of 'Thrones', the tag line would be: 'Winter came to Winterfell and the King of the North was dethroned.'
It was a bloodless coup, self-inflicted and all the more hurtful for that.
McIlroy faced into the day with loins girded for a battle to defend the title he won last year, and to have any chance of doing that successfully, he first needed to survive the executioner's axe that is the halfway cut in this Rolex Series $7 million tournament.
An opening 72 left him outside the 105 who got under par in round one.
Thursday's warm and benign weather was replaced in the early morning by rain squalls, gusting winds, and chilly temperatures more akin to October than July.
These were not the ideal conditions in which to attack a links which was largely defenceless the first day, but well protected by Mother Nature, at least for the morning groups which included McIlroy.
Once again he teed it up alongside Jon Rahm and Hideki Matsuyama.
The foreign invaders had put Portstewart to the sword on Thursday, and threatened to do so again.
This marquee group of world leaders - Matsuyama number two in the rankings, McIlroy at four, and Rahm in 11th place - attracted a large gallery.
The fans willed their hero to great deeds, but McIlroy had a stop-start front nine, finishing that stretch with three birdies and two bogeys.
His game never clicked into the kind of mighty surge he needed to beat the course into submission, and some of McIlroy's approach work in terms of distance control was off-kilter.
He had to sweat a tad too much to save par on occasions and on his inward half, one birdie, a four on the par-five fourth hole, was never going to get the job done.
A bogey on the sixth, his 15th, was followed by the final dagger in the heart - a double-bogey six at the eighth, McIlroy's 17th. He signed for a 73, and one-over for the tournament.
It had to be galling, but as he does so often, McIlroy dealt graciously with the thorny subject of trying to make sense of his early exit from the tournament which he has made one of the top events on the European Tour.
"Yeah, look, I'm really disappointed. The last two times the Irish Open has been in Northern Ireland, not playing at the weekend, it's obviously not where I want to be.
"It's been a really frustrating year. Just hasn't really went the way I wanted it to.
"And yeah, it's been tough, but I felt like I was playing well coming in here. I played a lot of links golf last week. I was shooting good scores. I was confident.
"Just when I needed to play well and shoot the scores that I was shooting last week, it just wasn't quite there.
"It's just back to the drawing board and practise a bit, and get ready for next week in Scotland," said McIlroy.
The question inevitably arose: what has gone wrong?
Part of the answer lies in the disruption to his season caused by his rib injury.
McIlroy has not enjoyed a clear run of tournaments but he believes he is not far away from generating a stretch of decent performances
He was also asked about the effect of his deep personal commitment to this tournament.
"I think it's a combination of both. I haven't played as much as I would have liked this year, but I've got next week in Scotland, then The Open. I'm going to play a lot of events over the summer.
"But I really need to get my game in order if I want to challenge in them, so I'll do a bit of practice over the weekend, and hopefully I can find something and go with it over the next few weeks," he said.
Jon Rahm had words of consolation for playing partner McIlroy.
Rahm said: "Rory played great golf tee to green and he was just unlucky to miss some putts.
"I know the Irish fans will be disappointed he is not here for the weekend, but looking ahead to The Open, he will be just fine".