Sunday 22 October 2017

McIlroy keen to get his putting stroke back on straight and narrow

Rory McIlroy reacts to a tee shot at the third during the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship at the Quail Hollow Club
Rory McIlroy reacts to a tee shot at the third during the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship at the Quail Hollow Club

William S Callahan

Rory McIlroy's hopes of lighting-up Quail Hollow like a birthday cake were quickly snuffed out yesterday.

Great expectations that he might mark his 25th with a title-winning birdie blitz at the Wells Fargo went unfulfilled as McIlroy rediscovered his scoring touch too late in a closing two-under-par 70.

On eight-under, the Holywood native seemed set for his fifth top-10 finish in seven outings this year. Yet the over-riding feeling was one of frustration after a splendid 65 on Saturday had revived memories of McIlroy's sensational weekend dash to his first PGA Tour victory here in 2010.

Just as he did four years ago, McIlroy made the cut on the number last Friday and, as he improved on his slipshod second-round 76 by a whopping 11 strokes, he appeared capable off challenging for his first win in 20 months in the US.

Setting out yesterday on six-under, seven shy of overnight leader JB Holmes, the two-time Major champion clearly needed to go close to his own course record 62 to have any chance.

Yet such thoughts soon proved fanciful as McIlroy paid a hefty price for his aggression at the first, short-siding himself badly to the right of the green after going bald-headed for the perilous pin.

EXOCET

The young Ulsterman is hitting his driver awesome distances but, too often, those exocet missiles flew through the fairway, giving him little opportunity to make headway.

Even when he did find the short grass, 357 yards down the par five fifth for example, McIlroy put his next in the front-left greenside bunker, left his escape in the fringe and two another two to get down for a frustrating par.

Back-to-back birdies at seven and eight sparked hope but McIlroy shot himself in the foot at nine, where he missed yet another fairway, hit his approach into the right rough and then missed a five-foot putt for par.

So it continued, McIlroy following a nice birdie three at 12, where he holed a 15-foot putt, with bogey four out of a greenside bunker at 13.

When he drove the green with a 334-yard tee shot at 14 and two-putted from 88 feet for birdie then followed up with a facile four at the long 15th, it was too little, too late.

Fate had the last laugh when McIlroy's 10-foot birdie putt at 18 horseshoed out of the cup.

One suspects McIlroy's greatest birthday wish is to quickly bed in the fix for recent alignment problems with his putting.

"You know," he explained on Saturday, "where I feel I'm aiming and where I am actually aiming are two different at the minute, so I guess it's a matter of doing the reps and doing more practice until it becomes second nature."

Jim Furyk, 44 next Monday and champion at Quail Hollow in 2006, fired a seven-under 65 that placed him in the early clubhouse lead on 13-under.

Yet Holmes, three clear on 16-under with three to play, was in the driving seat, and held his nerve to win by a stroke from Furyk.

Phil Mickelson, struggling to find the deadly putting touch he'd shown during Saturday's 63, blew himself right out of contention.

Chile's Felipe Aguilar clinched victory in The Championship at Laguna National with a stunning eagle two at the final hole.

Aguilar, 40 in November, beat Anders Hansen and David Lipsky by one on 22-under after hitting a stroke of genius from 140 yards with a powerful pitching wedge to equal his career-low round, 62, on the European Tour.

Peter Lawrie at last saw light at the end of a long, dark tunnel in Singapore as he collected his first cheque in 12 events this season.

The Dubliner earned €12,430 in a share of 20th place on 12-under with Simon Thornton after a closing 69. That's modest alongside the winner's €180,531 but it's manna from heaven for Lawrie after the longest barren stretch of his career.

Thornton also finished nicely completing three successive rounds in the 60s for the first time since last October's Portugal Masters with yesterday's 68.

Gareth Maybin picked up his first cheque in six tournaments (for €3,541) in a tie for 54th on five-under after a final-round 75.

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