McIlroy must let his talent do the talking
RORY McILROY can set the Irish Open ablaze with his golf this weekend but he was in equally fiery form off the Killeen Course yesterday, launching another blistering broadside at the TV pundit who had rubbished his caddie, JP Fitzgerald, on Twitter.
McIlroy shook off Thursday's cobwebs with a sweet second-round 68, which put him well into contention going into the weekend in Killarney -- yet the Holywood star had no intention of putting his furious bust-up with Jay Townsend behind him.
Insisting he had no regrets about a dispute that went viral on the internet, TV and in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic, McIlroy once again made plain his fury at the former European Tour journeyman Townsend, a commentator with BBC Radio and the Golf Channel.
"I really don't have any respect for the man after what he did or what he has done the last three years," said McIlroy, adding Townsend has been critical of his caddie and their course management since September 2008.
"It's unfortunate some people are so opinionated," he went on. "A lot of people have mentioned it to me over the past few years and (Thursday) was just one comment too far and I thought I had to stand up for JP, who is one of my closest friends.
"I don't know what it is about Jay or if he has something against JP, but some of his criticism is very unfair. I don't care if he criticises me because I'm the golfer, I'm the one that hits the shots and I can take it, but JP can't stand up for himself in the media.
"I have to stand up for JP because he is the best man I think I can have on my bag. He has taken me from 200th in the world to Major champion and now fourth in the world; I was third at one stage. Just to have constant criticism like that all the time, I mean, it's hard work."
This cogent argument and the measured tone of McIlroy's remarks yesterday are in stark contrast to the retaliatory tweets he sent Townsend on Thursday, telling the American to: "shut up... you're a commentator and a failed golfer, your opinion means nothing!"
No question, Townsend went over the top by tweeting that Fitzgerald had "allowed some SHOCKING course management" during the first round.
Describing it as "the worst I have seen beyond U-10 boys golf", he suggested McIlroy should hire Tiger's ex-caddie Steve Williams instead.
Yet if McIlroy had taken more time to consider his response, considerable controversy would have been avoided and he would not have endured the damage to his reputation which his rush to retaliate inevitably caused, especially in the USA.
He claimed yesterday that Townsend "can't really say anything about my game -- I know he was on Tour for six years (in fact it was nine) and he finished second in the Heineken Classic or whatever it was, but he doesn't need to be that opinionated and be that strong in his views."
In fact, Townsend is paid to be opinionated and if McIlroy's profile continues to rise at its current rate, he's going to face criticism from many, many more pundits in future.
For his own good, he must learn to handle it better and consider his options more carefully.
McIlroy discussed this matter overnight with "a few people, Chubby (Chandler, his agent), Stuart (Cage, his manager), my mum and dad."
While he replied: "No, not at all," when asked if this week's controversy might put him off Twitter, one hopes McIlroy can be persuaded to use it more wisely.
The Irish Open has reason to be thankful that McIlroy's golf was unaffected as the Ulsterman and his predecessor as US Open champion Graeme McDowell effectively rescued this year's event with yesterday's spirited charge up the leaderboard.
As British Open hero Darren Clarke and three-times Major champion Padraig Harrington missed the cut, there had been concern that all four headliners might not make it through with potentially disastrous consequences for the weekend's attendance figures.
Yet those fears were dispelled as McDowell, inspired by birdies on the opening two holes of his second round, posted a spirited second-round 66 to join McIlroy on four-under-par, just six shots off the lead set by Germany's Marcel Siem, who sped to 10-under with two rounds of 66.
As high-flying amateur Paul Cutler was joined on six-under-par by seasoned Tour winners Michael Hoey, Damien McGrane and Peter Lawrie, the home nation could brace itself for one of the most exciting Irish Open climaxes in many years.
Yesterday's attendance of 20,215 was nearly 3,000 higher than last year's second round in Killarney. With a total of 38,518 spectators already through the gates at the 2011 Irish Open and McIlroy and McDowell leading a powerful Irish challenge this weekend, the four-day aggregate is expected to exceed the 2010 total of 81,738.
Having delivered on his promise to "relax on the golf course and put less pressure on myself", McDowell was delighted yesterday when his putting touch started to return. With it came a spring in his step which has been missing recent times.
As he shakes off a dose of 'man-flu' and a slight back strain, McDowell should emerge on his 32nd birthday today as a real threat.
So will McIlroy, who began to play more and more like the guy who obliterated the opposition at this year's US Open as he played the final 10 holes of his second round in four-under, including a glittering hat-trick of birdies at 14, 15 and 16.
After pulling so many of his tee shots left and into the long grass during Thursday's one-under-par 70, McIlroy solved a glitch in his swing on the range and drove the ball "a lot better" yesterday.
"I was pleased with the way I hit the ball, especially off the tee,'' said McIlroy, who slipped up with an untidy bogey six at the seventh.
"It was a nice score but it could have been a little better. I could have got it going a little bit on the front nine, but I'll take 68."
With trademark confidence McIlroy expressed firm belief that he can now go on and win the Irish Open.
"I do," he said stoutly. "I'm only five back going into the weekend and if I get off to a good start in the third round and post a good number, I can give myself a good chance."
Now that's the sort of talk we like to hear from Rory McIlroy.