Tuesday 28 March 2017

McIlroy frailties on full display

William S Callahan

Rory McIlroy follows the flight of his ball during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow
Rory McIlroy follows the flight of his ball during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow

RORY McILROY beat Quail Hollow with an imperious 62 as he marched to his first PGA Tour victory last year, but this classy golf course was the clear winner yesterday as the gifted young Ulsterman opened his Wells Fargo Championship defence with a stuttering three-over-par 75.

If the good people of Charlotte, North Carolina, saw McIlroy at his magical best on that unforgettable weekend last May, they've now been given a close-up view of the short-game frailties which lay behind his nightmare final round 80 at last month's US Masters.

McIlroy started working at Quail Hollow this week with Dave Stockton, the former US Ryder Cup captain who helped Phil Mickelson and Annika Sorenstam get the utmost out of their game on and around the putting green.

And judging by this latest performance by Ireland's world No 6, it has not come a moment too soon. Overall, McIlroy played poorly yesterday, which to some extent was understandable; the 22-year-old was on a real hiding to nothing as he stepped onto the 10th tee, which was his first.

The last time he played this nine, McIlroy had been lifted and carried on a tidal wave of noise and excitement, picking up four birdies and an eagle. In the relative stillness and silence of early morning yesterday, he started with a morale-sapping bogey six.

In truth, McIlroy played badly from tee to green yesterday, only finding eight of 14 fairways and hitting just 10 of 18 greens in regulation.

Yet Padraig Harrington performed even worse in both departments and still out-scored his young fellow Irishman by six strokes, signing for a three-under-par 69, which left him five shots shy of the early clubhouse lead held by America's Bill Haas on 64. Jonathan Byrd and David Toms are two shots further back in joint third, after the American pair carded rounds of 66.

The difference lay in Harrington's renowned short game. The Dubliner -- his head still rattling with loose nuts and bolts after hitting thousands of golf balls during much-needed remedial sessions last week with swing coach Bob Torrance -- repeatedly landed himself in trouble but scrambled brilliantly, picking up just one bogey on a day which could have yielded many more.

Of course, Harrington needs to tidy up his act and soon. No player can afford to continue playing like this on a golf course with Major championship potential. The work he did with Torrance needs to click in if the three-time Major champion is to have any chance of improving on his share of seventh place behind McIlroy last May.

The youngster's confidence surely was dented by that opening bogey on the challenging par-five 10th. After pushing his opening tee shot into the right rough, McIlroy hit a 262-yard three-wood and was just 26 yards short of the sloping green in two.

Yet in taking four strokes to get down from there, McIlroy set an unhappy tone for his day. Much has been written about McIlroy's putting since Augusta. Yet even though a three-putt from distance for a bogey five at the ninth brought his total for the first round to 32, there were no glaring misses from close range.

McIlroy famously made the cut on the mark last year after opening with a level-par 72, followed by a 73 on Friday, and then carved up Quail Hollow and his rivals by playing the next 36 holes in 16-under. After yesterday's effort in near-perfect playing conditions, he'll need to hit the throttle hard today to have any chance of playing 72 holes this week.

Harrington's old adversary Sergio Garcia also had just one bogey and four birdies on his card as he matched the Dubliner's 69, while Martin Kaymer was one behind his two fellow Europeans after a hot-and-cold opening 70.

LADIES EUROPEAN TOUR: Irish duo Martina Gillen and Rebecca Codd were tied 59th on four-over-par after first-round 77s at the Turkish Airlines Open in Antalya left them seven off the pace set by Stefania Croce of Italy with a tidy 70.

EUROPEAN CHALLENGE TOUR: Simon Thornton and Niall Kearney still could wish upon a star for their first European Challenge Tour victory at Disneyland Paris this weekend after both opened the Allianz Challenge de France with three-under-par rounds of 68. The two Irishmen shared 14th place, four behind Swedish leader Joakim Lagergren. Colm Moriarty signed for a 71.

EUROPRO TOUR: David Rawluk of The Island and Limerick's Tim Rice both banked £775 as they finished in a six-way tie for eighth place at the YourGolfTravel.com European Championship at Wensum Valley in Norfolk, the opening event of the 2011 EuroPro Tour season. Noel Fox shot a final-round 72 for a share of 14th place and £489.17.

Wells Fargo Championship,

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