Monday 24 November 2014

'Rusty' Rory McIlroy happy with return to fray in Korea

William S Callahan

Published 18/10/2013 | 05:00

Rory McIlroy returned to action in Korea this and looked sharp
Rory McIlroy returned to action in Korea this week and looked sharp
Rory McIlroy lines up a birdie putt on the third green during the Second Round of the 56th Kolon Korea Open 2013
Playing his shot from the second hole during the Second Round of the 56th Kolon Korea Open 2013
Rory McIlroy plays his shot from the fourteenth hole
Rory McIlroy (R) and caddie J.P. Fitzgerald prepare for a shot on the first hole during the Second Round of the 56th Kolon Korea Open 2013
Rory McIlroy plays his shot from the second hole
Rory McIlroy reacts to a shot on the sixth hole
Rory McIlroy acknowledges spectators on the seventh green
Rory McIlroy plays his shot from the seventh tee
Rory McIlroy carded a 70 in his opening round in South Korea.
Rory McIlroy attends at a news conference ahead of Koron Korea Open Golf Championship in Seoul
Rory McIlroy has endured a difficult 2013 both on and off the field
Two-time major champion Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland attends at a news conference ahead of the Korea Open golf tournament in Seoul, South Korea
Bill Clinton and Rory McIlroy enjoy a round of golf
Rory McIlroy is rumoured to have split from girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki
A COUPLE NO MORE: Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki last year.
Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki
Rory McIlroy stands beside a poster of himself prior to the start of the first round of the BMW Championship golf tournament at the Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Illinois
Rory McIlroy chats with Sergio Garcia between the 11th tee and 18th tee during the pro-am of the BMW Championship in Chicago
26/9/13 Rory McIlroy going to the Script at Whelans, part of the Arthur's Day celebrations in Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins
Rory McIlroy and Caroline Woznkiacki in matching tops in NYC
Rory McIlroy smiles as he watches the women's singles first round match between girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and Ying-Ying Duan of China on Day Two of the 2013 US Open
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy stands in front of the New York skyline
Rory McIlroy throws his ball in the water in frustration after carding a double bogey on the 15th hole during the second round of the USPGA at Oak Hill in August
Rory McIlroy hits his tee shot on the 11th hole during the pro-am round of the Deutsche Bank Championships in Norton, Massachusetts
Rory McIlroy hits a drive on the16th hole
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy reacts to his shot on the 15th hole during the second round of the 2013 PGA Championship golf tournament at Oak Hill
Rory McIlroy won the US PGA Championship last year (AP)
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy signs autographs as he walks off the eighth green during a practice round for the 2013 PGA Championship golf tournament at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York August 6, 2013

RORY McILROY sported enough stubble in Korea this week to suggest the 24-year-old could be giving himself a head start for 'Movember'.

The Holywood native's golf also looked a little untidy as he embarked on his first tournament round in a month at the Kolon Korea Open, though by the finish of McIlroy's one-under-par 70 his approach play and short game looked razor sharp.

Typically of a season of discontent, in which McIlroy has plummeted from the top of the world rankings to sixth, he once again had a double-bogey on his card, an unwieldy five at the treacherous par-three 13th. After hitting his tee-shot into the water, McIlroy (pictured below) then played an unimpressive pitch to 35 feet from the drop zone and took two putts to get down.

Not since June's Irish Open has the Ulsterman managed to go through a tournament without making a double, treble or quadruple bogey and yesterday's lapse at 13 was the 38th time in 66 competitive rounds this year that he's dropped two shots or more at one hole.

Naturally, a little ring-rust was to be expected after a month in which a swirl of friendly rounds with mates (including former US president Bill Clinton) and social engagements in Dublin were interspersed with the inevitable sessions with swing coach Michael Bannon.

One assumes McIlroy spent some of that time helping his legal team prepare for their acrimonious Four Courts battle with former management company Horizon. Papers were lodged and a trial date set for next October by Mr Justice Kelly in the Commercial Court last Monday.

"I just wasn't very comfortable with the tee-shot (at 13)," said McIlroy. "I took a long time to get settled over it and then just didn't make a very good swing."

Yet he rebounded with a superb birdie at the next, hitting a fabulous mid-iron to seven feet before adroitly holing the putt. This classy approach shot, and two more McIlroy played as he landed birdies at 17 and 18, were strongly reminiscent of his imperious play 12 months ago.

At day's end he looked threatening in a tie for 12th place, three behind leader Ik-Jae Jang (40) of Korea, who opened with a flawless 67. "It was tough, some of the pin positions out there today were brutal, just cut on slopes and very hard to get close to them," said McIlroy, "and when you did get close to them you left yourself very tricky putts."

Fearlessly

After lipping-out with a seven-foot putt to save par at four, McIlroy holed from six feet for birdie at the next. He then fearlessly potted a 15-footer at nine to stay at level par through the turn.

"I felt I was a little rusty after the four weeks off," the Ulsterman mused. "But I battled back nicely and to end up under par for the day wasn't too bad."

He certainly knows how to go low at Woo Jeong Hills Country Club in Cheonan, having shot a final-round 64 there in 2011 as he finished runner-up to runaway American Ricky Fowler.

Ireland's Peter Lawrie and David Higgins certainly were upstaged in their desperate, last-ditch bid to hang on to their European Tour cards at the Perth International by Sweden's Peter Hedblom.

Lawrie needs to finish 34th or better and Higgins inside the leading 20 on Sunday to climb into the top 110 on the Money List and avoid Q-School. Both made a tepid start to the tournament, one-over-par rounds of 73 leaving them tied 48th with, among others, Michael Hoey.

This was in stark contrast to 43-year-old Hedblom, who opened the final regular event in the 2013 Race to Dubai with a stirring four-under-par 68, which earned him a share of the lead with former British Amateur champion Jin Jeong of Korea and Australian duo James Nitties and Clint Rice.

Currently 179th in the Money List, Hedblom needs a top-two in Perth to evade an 11th visit to Q-School at PGA Catalunya, where, incidentally, he graduated with his Tour credentials last year.

"I'm so far back I need a win or to finish second really," said Hedblom, who missed seven of his first eight cuts this year, but carded six birdies and two bogeys yesterday.

"You have nothing to hold back; you just have to go for everything," he added. "The tension is nothing really. Today it felt like any tournament – if I'll be leading the last day, then maybe I'll feel the tension, but right now it's just one round out of four.

"It's good to at least have a chance to do it. The game is there, you just need a little bit of confidence."

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