McIlroy stays in contention
Published 04/06/2011 | 05:00
HIS final-round implosion at The Masters is very much a receding memory for Rory McIlroy as he heads into high summer and the meat of the season with the scent of victory in his nostrils.
Busy times lie ahead for McIlroy both on and off the golf course as he fits a visit to the stricken Caribbean nation of Haiti next Monday and Tuesday into his preparations for the upcoming US Open at Congressional.
Haiti was devastated by an earthquake in January of last year and McIlroy goes there on his first field trip as a sporting ambassador for UNICEF Ireland, a role the 22-year-old Ulsterman enthusiastically accepted in March.
Golf is not a major sport in Haiti. The nation's only course is the nine-hole Petionville Country Club, who turned over their facility for use as a camp for 50,000-plus homeless when the earthquake struck. It also was HQ for the US Army's 82nd Airborne Division during the rescue operation.
Yet like the other prominent figures who serve as UNICEF ambassadors, from Lionel Messi to Liam Neeson, McIlroy's presence in Haiti will bring the oxygen of publicity to a poverty-stricken country which is still in dire need of international assistance.
McIlroy would dearly love to board that flight to Port-au-Prince as Memorial champion, a title which is still very much within his reach after an eventful second-round 72 at Muirfield Village.
Tied first overnight with American Chris Riley after both had opened with splendid six-under-par 66s on Thursday, McIlroy enters today's third round on six-under, three shy of Steve Stricker's clubhouse lead.
Stricker hit the top of the leaderboard with a spectacular hole-in-one at the eighth, his 17th, courtesy of a 188-yard six-iron. The 40-year-old then birdied nine for a 67.
McIlroy was a little wild and woolly from tee to green yesterday and admitted frustration at his failure to take full advantage of near perfect playing conditions on the showpiece course Jack Nicklaus built in his home town of Dublin, Ohio.
"I felt I played good enough to shoot something in the 60s but I just made too many mistakes out there," he said. "I made two bogeys on the front nine from the middle of the fairway with a nine-iron and a sand wedge in my hand.
"You just can't do that sort of stuff," added McIlroy, who then surrendered a clear lead when he took six at 14 after pulling his tee shot into the stream. "Fourteen was playing tough today with that pin position but to make double there was quite disappointing.
"But I'm still happy with how I handled everything because it seemed every time I made a mistake, I came back with birdie to sort of rectify it."
With six birdies, four bogeys and that double on his card, McIlroy was tied on six-under with Ricky Barnes (70) and fault-free duo Jonathan Byrd (67) and Aussie Rod Pampling (66). World No 1 Luke Donald was well in touch on five-under after a 69.
McIlroy still has a great chance of winning one of America's most prestigious tournaments. "It'd mean a lot for me to win here," he said. "It's one of my favourite tournaments on one of my favourite courses.
"I'd love to be able to put my name on the list of champions at Memorial, including Jack himself -- definitely!"
Though focused on the task in hand, McIlroy inevitably was asked about his 'field trip' to Haiti. "I signed up with UNICEF at the start of the year and they were very keen for me to just go and see what they do," he explained. "I had next week off, and it just fitted in.
"When they first approached me, I felt it was a good fit. UNICEF work primarily with children and I feel I'm the sort of age that I can relate to them. That really was the reason why I decided to sort of be a part of it.
"I don't really know what to expect in Haiti but it'll be great just to go down there and see how they're helping people that are nowhere near as fortunate as we are."
On his return, McIlroy will visit Washington to recce US Open venue Congressional on Wednesday and Thursday and then winds-up his preparations for the season's second Major at the exclusive Pine Valley resort next weekend.
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