Wednesday 22 March 2017

World Cup blues for off-key Macs

William S Callahan

Rory McIlroy holds his putter in his mouth on the 18th green after enduring a frustrating final round at the World Cup alongside
playing partner Graeme McDowell
Rory McIlroy holds his putter in his mouth on the 18th green after enduring a frustrating final round at the World Cup alongside playing partner Graeme McDowell

IRELAND'S 'soul brothers', Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, once again wound up singing the World Cup blues at Mission Hills yesterday.

For the second time in successive World Cups, McIlroy and McDowell powered into the final round at the head of the field -- and then blew their chance of claiming a third victory for Ireland at this fabled championship.

The Ulster duo, who finished one tantalising stroke behind Edoardo and Francesco Molinari in 2009, this time sputtered home in a tie for fourth as Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland ended a record 11-year World Cup drought for the USA.

McIlroy and McDowell lost their rhythm and were starved of momentum during yesterday's level-par 72 on the Blackstone Course as Kuchar and Woodland purred to a two-stroke victory over Germany and England with an error-free 67 in the closing foursomes.

Fittingly, they clinched America's 24th win at the World Cup in 24-under-par, accepting cheques for US$1.2m each along with the golden jackets the winners must don.

As he walked from prize-giving to the media conference, a jubilant Kuchar could be forgiven for posing in this exceedingly garish jacket and loudly asking his Chinese hosts: "Any of you guys know Jackie Chan?"

Silenced

World No 10 Kuchar only played at Mission Hills because the three Americans ahead of him in the global rankings declined the opportunity ... yet he and Woodland splendidly silenced any debate about US golf's failure in recent years to show due respect to this event and field their "strongest" players.

US Open champions McIlroy and McDowell, the pre-tournament favourites, would not have felt any worse had they been led away in sackcloth after a frustrating final round.

Their two-stroke overnight lead vanished in a flash as the Irish stumbled to a three-putt bogey on the first hole, where McIlroy missed a short putt for par.

Minutes earlier, the Americans had made birdie there and then briefly nipped ahead with another at the par-five second.

McIlroy hit a fantastic shot in close for birdie at three and McDowell set up another with a splendid tee shot at the par-three fifth, putting the Ulstermen back in front. Game on, we thought ... wrongly.

The initiative would be surrendered yet again at six, where they recovered nicely after McIlroy pulled his tee shot into the trees but then, infuriatingly, three-putted for a bogey six.

And so it went on. McIlroy showing his genius with a brilliant chip-in birdie from the greenside rough at 10 to rejoin the lead, only for the Irish pair to stall badly once again at the long 12th.

An ugly six there contrasted starkly with the birdies posted by their German playing companions Martin Kaymer and Alex Cejka and the Americans in the group ahead.

Wee-Mac drove into a fairway bunker; G-Mac caught the lip with his escape and the ball ricocheted off volcanic rocks and back onto the fairway.

Though safely on the green in three, the Irish boys three-stabbed, McIlroy once again showing his unnerving penchant for missing short putts as his three-footer ran off the right lip.

"We just didn't have it out there today," McDowell admitted. "We had no mojo. We didn't make anything. We probably had two of the best breaks we had all year on two par-fives and we made six on both of them.

"That really was the story of the day -- we made nothing and couldn't get it going.

"We knew what we had to do," he went on. "Our target was to shoot four-under and that's exactly what we needed, but couldn't get it done.

"We're disappointed, of course, but this is a high-quality golf tournament. The USA have played fantastic and England played phenomenally well (Justin Rose and Ian Poulter closed with a superlative 63). That was the high standard we had to live up to today and we just didn't do it."

Ireland's challenge expired on 15 when McDowell's tee shot landed under the lip of a bunker, leading to an inevitable bogey four. A nice birdie out of a greenside trap at the driveable 16th offered precious little consolation to the Irish pair.

"Foursomes is a difficult format," said McIlroy. "If you lose your rhythm slightly, it's very hard to get it back. You can go a few holes without hitting an iron shot or a few holes without hitting a putt. That basically was the story of our day, we just didn't get anything going."

McIlroy stops off in Japan today for an exhibition with Ryo Ishikawa to raise funds for the earthquake and tsunami appeal.

He then heads for this week's Hong Kong Open, while McDowell tees it up at the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa.

Mercifully, Ireland's Blues Brothers have little time to dwell on their misfortune.

Irish Independent

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