Friday 28 July 2017

Odd to see Rory leave this way

'Unlike a number of other leading players, including Tiger Woods, McIlroy is fortunate in having an enviably solid technique which has required very little adjustment over the years.' Photo: Getty
'Unlike a number of other leading players, including Tiger Woods, McIlroy is fortunate in having an enviably solid technique which has required very little adjustment over the years.' Photo: Getty

Dermot Gilleece

Rory McIlroy knows there are different degrees of greatness, the most enviable being an ability to make things happen in critical situations. This quality was clearly absent from the Holywood star's armoury at Erin Hills, where he missed his fourth US Open cut in nine attempts, and his second in successive years.

Another aspect of greatness is the inevitability of being measured against those who have gone before. In this context, there were some remarkable similarities between McIlroy's situation last Thursday evening and that of Jack Nicklaus at the Open Championship of 1981.

That was when Nicklaus crashed to an opening round of 83 at Royal St George's. And I remember how he declined to come into the media centre afterwards for fear of offering as an excuse the fact that he had gone to the first tee knowing one of his sons back home was involved with the police over a motoring incident.

Facing a select group of scribes in the locker-room, Nicklaus was asked what the 83 meant in terms of his Open challenge. "Obviously it means I'll have to shoot 65 or 66 tomorrow to make the cut," he replied.

So, 13 strokes off the lead just as McIlroy was on Friday, he set off in the second round with that target in mind, carding a stunning 66 to make the cut by a stroke on 149 - leaving us to marvel at his ability to perform on demand. He then went on to finish tied 23rd behind Bill Rogers.

McIlroy, too, was on 149 on Friday evening, though against the background of unusually hot scoring for a US Open, he was four strokes off qualifying for the weekend.

And while it may seem harsh to analyse Thursday's response on being asked about making the cut - "I feel like I'm capable . . . I just need to get the ball on the fairway" - it was light years removed from the conviction exuded by the Bear. Which seems to represent a key difference between these two great players facing similar challenges.

By way of further emphasis, Erin Hills was considered an ideal test for a player of McIlroy's driving strength, whereas Nicklaus had an intense dislike of Sandwich and its quirky humps and bumps, as in - "It's the only course I know where you drive your ball straight down the middle and lose it."

Meanwhile, it was suggested in some quarters that McIlroy's comments about the width of the fairways had come back to haunt him. Which is both wrong and unfair. Players of his status are expected to make such forthright assessments, even at the risk of becoming one of those packing his bags for home. In short, Friday's outcome didn't invalidate those views.

Unlike a number of other leading players, including Tiger Woods, McIlroy is fortunate in having an enviably solid technique which has required very little adjustment over the years. When modifications are required, he has absolute trust in his long-time coach Michael Bannon.

Recent inactivity has clearly been a problem. And there has been the adjustment to new equipment, in the wake of Nike's decision to quit that particular field of their manufacturing activities. Either way, there is no cause for alarm.

It is not in his nature to grind out scores with the sort of intensity that characterised Woods's game. McIlroy is more of a mood player, who can deliver remarkable performances when all is well in his world.

His next assignment is in this week's $6.8m Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands, Connecticut.

And by the time he arrives at Portstewart to defend his Dubai Duty Free Irish Open title next month, the disappointment of Erin Hills will be no more than an irritation. Still, it looked decidedly strange to see him complete his 36th hole on Friday with a tap-in birdie on the short ninth, then force a self-conscious smile before heading dejectedly to the recorder's area.

A player who believes his career will be defined by the Major championships is not meant to depart the scene that way.

Sunday Indo Sport

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