Tuesday 25 July 2017

McIlroy's dose of the blues

Rory McIlroy tees off on the second hole during the first round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Rory McIlroy tees off on the second hole during the first round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Karl MacGinty at Wentworth

SOMEONE old, someone new, someone brilliant, many blue!

Combine wet, blustery weather with a golf course that's already demanding and you get a stormy marriage of inconvenience, as the majority of the BMW PGA Championship field discovered at Wentworth yesterday.

One glorious exception was Luke Donald (33), who admitted he'd felt "invincible" as he walked through the maelstrom to a magnificent first-round 64 he described as "probably one of the best rounds I've ever played".

So often the bridesmaid in showpiece stroke play championships, Donald was best man by far on the Burma Road yesterday as he made an emphatic statement of his intent to knock Lee Westwood off the top of the world this weekend.

euphoria

Donald's euphoria contrasted starkly with the gloomy aura surrounding Rory McIlroy as he exited the scoring hut after his five-over-par 76 and, head down, walked briskly away up the hill to the clubhouse.

McIlroy gave the media a wide berth. Uncharacteristically, he also at first appeared oblivious to fans and autograph hunters eagerly trying to catch his attention from behind the barrier which runs alongside the path to the clubhouse.

When the penny dropped, McIlroy paused and turned, clearly telling them he'd happily oblige anyone who wanted something signed later on at the practice range. His only communication to the masses was on Twitter: "Just finished a little bit of retail therapy at Harrods! Needed it!"

Recalling how impressively he'd squared-up to the cameras after his final-round implosion at The Masters, McIlroy's silence yesterday gave ample measure of his disappointment and frustration.

As he grappled with his game and searched vainly for rhythm and confidence on the greens, McIlroy's two playing companions, Matteo Manassero and Darren Clarke, performed with the aplomb one expects of recent tournament winners. Manassero claimed his second European Tour victory in Malaysia last month, two days before his 18th birthday.

After 72 holes in Kuala Lumpur, he was two clear of McIlroy, plainly exhausted by his efforts at Augusta just seven days earlier, not to mention a 40-hour odyssey across 13 time zones to Malaysia.

Yesterday, the Italian was 10 strokes better than McIlroy, a five-under 66 leaving him tied second with Sweden's Johan Edfors, two behind the leader.

Donald and Manassero could be cut from the same mould as golfers. Neither is a long hitter but both are wonderfully precise with their irons and are formidable around the green.

Manassero is so mature in the conduct of his business on and off course, it was surprising to learn he must sit high-school exams within the next month and still has a year to go to his graduation!

If Manassero counted as someone new and McIlroy certainly was blue, Clarke qualified as 'old' alongside both of them.

The veteran's 42 years were two greater than the combined ages of his playing companions, but he burst out of the gate like a colt yesterday, hitting sweet six-iron shots to 20 feet and 12 feet for early birdies at holes one and three.

He then played the next 15 in par. Though several chances were spurned in the process, Clarke's reservoir of patience clearly has been replenished by that win in Mallorca and, justifiably, he was delighted with his 69.

As darkness fell with 15 players still on the course, the Ulsterman was Ireland's only representative among the 19 men under par. That number included revitalised Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie (47) who shared ninth with Clarke on two-under.

"My swing feels great, everything does, and I'm hitting good putts. The game's more fun again," said Clarke.

Asked if he'd been able to bridge the generation gap in his three-ball with conversation, Clarke joked: "Oh we'd all sorts of things to talk about, women and all sorts of carry-on. I've played with Matteo before, in one of his first events on Tour a couple of years back. He's a lovely young man -- they both are."

US Open champion Graeme McDowell felt "a little under the weather" with a stomach upset but said his putting "really made me feel like puking" as he stumbled to an untidy 75.

McDowell, who played with Donald, added: "Luke's iron play is off the planet and he chips and putts like God. He's got it on a frozen rope right now whereas my rope's a little melted."

The PGA Championship,

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Irish Independent

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