Monday 22 January 2018

As the top three flop, one thing Rory McIlroy didn't look was bored

Rory McIlroy, pictured on the 14th tee during his second round at Erin Hills, was in quite a buoyant mood after playing his last six holes in four-under. Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty
Rory McIlroy, pictured on the 14th tee during his second round at Erin Hills, was in quite a buoyant mood after playing his last six holes in four-under. Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty

James Corrigan

With the world's top three players making history by missing the cut in the same Major, Rory McIlroy became involved in a bitter row with a fellow Major winner who accused him of being "bored" with the game.

McIlroy was on board a private jet flying back to his Florida home when he came under a social media onslaught from Steve Elkington. Having watched McIlroy fail to make the US Open weekend for the second year in succession, the Australian, who won the 1995 US PGA Championship, tweeted: "Rory is so bored playing golf . . . without Tiger [Woods] the threshold is 4 majors with 100mill in bank."

McIlroy signed a deal with equipment makers TaylorMade last month which is estimated to be worth $100m over 10 years and which takes his annual off-course earnings to approximately $25m. But McIlroy, who has not won a Major for three years, hit back at Elkington's claim.

"More like 200mil . . . not bad for a 'bored' 28-year-old . . . plenty more where that came from," McIlroy posted alongside a screenshot of his Wikipedia entry, which lists the 28-year-old's achievements in the game.

And so it went back and forth with Elkington saying that Jack Nicklaus "never mentioned his total cash". "You're the 200 mill guy," he told McIlroy.

In truth, McIlroy would be wiser not to become embroiled in spats such as this, particularly with a character such as Elkington - who is known for his controversial opinions and his enthusiasm in expressing them. To say McIlroy is "bored" with golf makes little sense in a season in which he has played only 24 competitive rounds because of injury.

McIlroy was actually in quite a buoyant mood after posting his 71 to stand on five-over, having played his last six holes in four-under.

"I'm hungry, but I'm not going to force it. I'm going to let it happen. I'm going to play," McIlroy said. "The worst thing I can do is go and force it, because that's not my game. I started to let it go towards the end and show what I can do. I birdied four of the last six and probably could have birdied all of them. It didn't matter at that point because I was so far from the cut line. But at least I know it's in there, it's just a matter of getting it out of me.

"Yesterday [in his opening 78] I was a little anxious coming off an injury and that caught up with me as the round went on. Hopefully I've got a lot of the bad stuff out of my system and, although I'm disappointed not to be here on the weekend, I'm optimistic going into what will be a busy summer."

McIlroy did make a tweak to his swing on Friday after consultation with his coach Michael Bannon, but was generally mystified by his form over that first 30 holes as he felt he had "played really, really good" in practice. But he made the point that he needs "rounds with a card in my hand".

Looking on, a friend and former Ryder Cup captain agreed. Paul McGinley sees the effect of that rib injury which he sustained at the turn of the year and the complete change of clubs and ball as the obvious culprits to his miserable campaign.

"It's obviously disappointing for him. The US Open is probably the toughest test of the four Majors, so coming into it having not played a lot of competitive golf was always going to be difficult," he said, noting that he had played only one competitive event in 10 weeks before arriving in Wisconsin.

"His season has been ravaged by injury, so he hasn't been able get any momentum. You have a different feeling in practice rounds than with a scorecard in your hand, and he was adjusting to that competitive feeling again. Also you need time to bed in new equipment, which Rory has with the 14 new clubs and new golf ball."

McGinley, in Wisconsin as an analyst for Sky Sports, insists there is no reason to panic. "I don't think there's anything we can read into his game," he said. "He has added some extra events into his schedule, so hopefully he can stay injury-free and get a good run of tournaments under his belt. Rory thrives on his confidence being up and he gets that from competitive play and performances in competitive situations. That's all he needs, as everything else is in place. He can then get some confidence and give himself the best opportunity to win the other two Major championships this year."

McGinley's message is clear. Judge McIlroy at the end of August, not now. By then he will have played six of the last eight weeks, including the Open and US PGA. McIlroy is competing at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut this week and will then be playing the Irish Open and Scottish Open in his links preparations for Royal Birkdale.

The Southport course should suit and there is no doubt he has the ideal game for Quail Hollow, where the US PGA takes place. It was at the Charlotte course where he won his first US tournament in 2010. There is still enough time left for McIlroy to turn 2017 into a successful year, but these two months will dictate everything.

Jason Day is also in the Travelers field. The Australian came in boasting only two top-10s all season, but he expected much, much better. "It was the best prepared I'd gone into a Major, I felt like, in my career," he said.

At 10-over, it was his worst US Open. He did not understand it and neither did Dustin Johnson, the world No 1, who helped make it a first by crashing out on three-over. At least one member of the world's top three has always made the cut at the Majors since the rankings system was incepted in 1986. Until now.

"If you look at the golf course and you even talk to me, Jason or Rory, this course sets up perfect for us," Johnson said. "But, as we all know, this game's all about putting. I just didn't get it in the hole fast enough. It's just golf. It's frustrating. But I don't let it bother me. I feel like the golf game is there."

Johnson is now taking a four-week break to be with his wife, Paulina Gretzky, their newborn, River, and two-year-old Tatum, and will not be seen until Birkdale. Having missed back-to-back cuts, Johnson does not seem nearly the unstoppable force he was before the Masters. But then, Erin Hills, this 11-year-old layout, has not staged your average US Open and has taken many by surprise. For the game's predominant trio it has been an experience they will try to forget.


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