McIlroy's hot streak ends in a damp squib
IT felt more like a wet and windy day at the Open Championship yesterday than Florida in the spring, which was ironic as Rory McIlroy missed the halfway cut on the US PGA Tour for the first time since Muirfield in 2013.
The World No 1 last failed to make the weekend on any tour in last June's Irish Open at Fota Island, and this week's setback also comes pretty close to home for the 25-year-old, whose house is a few minutes down the road from PGA National, host venue for the Honda Classic.
This is going to be a peculiar weekend for a player who was on one of the hottest streaks of his career as he romped to victory in Dubai four weeks ago.
After weather disruptions of more than four hours yesterday, the lion's share of the Honda second round will only be completed today, so it's not clear yet by how much McIlroy will miss the bus on seven-over after yesterday's 74.
Out in the morning wave, McIlroy's second round was twice interrupted early on by inclement weather but neither that nor driving rain adequately explains his poor play yesterday, especially when his American playing companion Brooks Koepka followed up his 78 on Thursday with a sparkling 64.
For the second day in succession, McIlroy, a winner here at PGA National in 2012 and beaten only in sudden-death last March, found it difficult to hit fairways and greens, spending as much time, it seemed, in fairway and greenside traps as he did on the short grass.
Given the awesome power and precision of McIlroy's driving the past year, it was stunning to see him struggle so badly yesterday as he found barely half-a-dozen of 14 fairways. It was like watching Usain Bolt trying to run the 100 metres on quicksand.
Though McIlroy struggled in Thursday's gusting winds, he at least managed to finish his opening 73 on a high note with a couple of bracing birdies on 17 and 18.
It hinted at second-round fireworks from the 25-year-old but he managed just one paltry birdie yesterday, holing from six feet at the par-three fifth, his 14th. Four-over at that point, McIlroy still had an outside chance of making the cut if he picked up a couple of birdies on the way home.
Yet from mid-fairway at the sixth, with a mid-iron in his hand, instead of playing the desired low draw into the green at this challenging hole, McIlroy's approach ballooned high in the wind and faded into the right greenside bunker leading to bogey.
Typically of a distinctly uncomfortable day, he found sand again off the tee at the par three seventh, after his tee shot, hit with a fairway metal, clipped a palm frond. Bogey there and another at nine, his last as he three-putted in pursuit of a final flourish, brought McIlroy's tally of dropped shots to five.
Missing this cut might yet temp McIlroy to add another event to his schedule before the Masters. McIlroy plays the Cadillac WGC at Doral next week, followed by the Arnie Palmer Invitational a fortnight later, then was planning to skip the Texas and Houston Opens in the run-up to Augusta.
As play ended due to darknes, overnight leader Brendan Steele raged against the dying of the light with four birdies in four holes to lead by two from Patrick Reed who was in the clubhouse on six-under after two 67s.
Padraig Harrington, who opened with a fine 67 in Thursday's gales, and Graeme McDowell, needing birdies after his first-round 74, were among the men out yesterday who face a re-start at first light today. Harrington resumes on four under while McDowell struggling to make the cut on five over.
Meanwhile, Waterford star Kevin Phelan was the only member of the Irish quartet to make the weekend at the Joburg Open, the 24-year-old wrapping up a splendid four-under par 68 at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club's demanding East Course with a powerful birdie-birdie finish. Opportunities to play have been few and far between for Phelan since failing with a determined bid to hang onto his European Tour card in his rookie season last year.
After knocking the ring rust off during his first two competitive rounds of 2015 at last week's Hero Indian Open, Phelan made-up for that missed cut in fine style by thrusting himself into a tie for 11th on eight-under through 36 holes in Joburg, just four off South African Wallie Coetsee's lead.
Sadly, Peter Lawrie's encouraging run of four successive cuts on the Tour came to a shuddering halt as he missed out by one stroke in a large posse on three-under.
After his opening 66 on Thursday, the Dubliner was three over through the first seven holes of his second round on the East Course and could do no better than a two-over-par 74.
Gareth Maybin scored far better on the East in his opening-round 69 than he did yesterday, when he stalled with a two-over 73 to finish in 120th on one-under.
The harrowing grind continues for new European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke as he slumped to his fourth straight cut this year on one-over after playing the West Course in 72.
Coetsee, who broke his 17-year win drought on his native Sunshine Tour last year, sighed "somebody must wake me up, it feels like a dream" after following up Thursday's six-under 66 on the East Course with a 66 yesterday. He led by one from compatriots Garth Mulroy and Tiann Van der Walt, plus England's Simon Dyson.
Live, Sky Sports 4, 6.30pm
Live, Sky Sports 4, 10.30am