Sport Golf

Saturday 24 March 2018

How I play golf should not define me – McIlroy

Jbe Kruger of South Africa, wearing black ribbons in memory of the late Nelson Mandela, acknowledges spectators after finishing his second round at the Hong Kong Open
Jbe Kruger of South Africa, wearing black ribbons in memory of the late Nelson Mandela, acknowledges spectators after finishing his second round at the Hong Kong Open

William S Callahan

FIVE days after his magnificent first victory of the year in Australia, Rory McIlroy's noble recent efforts to rise above any frustration he encounters on the golf course have been sorely tested once again in Southern California this week.

As Tiger Woods roared into contention for a sixth victory at Sherwood Country Club in his own end-of-season tournament, the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge, McIlroy struggled to find the sleight of hand which helped him pick Adam Scott's pocket at Sunday's climax to the Australian Open.

It was fascinating this week to hear McIlroy underscore his determination not to allow poor shots determine his outlook, either in terms of his demeanour on the course or his mood off it, which he admits has been the case in the past.

"The way I play golf shouldn't determine who I am as a person," he explained. "That's sort of been the case sometimes this year. I'm very hard on myself and feel like I'm emotionally connected to my golf game.

"If I play bad, I'll be in a bad mood. If I play well I'll be in a good mood," added the 24-year-old. "Sometimes I feel I need to differentiate that. It's something I feel I've gotten better at and something I need to continue to get better at."


Clearly, McIlroy has learned hard lessons in 2013, suggesting a season of intense frustration and frequent discontent may ultimately produce a stronger, less vulnerable player going forward.

"I feel like for me to be happy, I need to play sort of pretty golf. I need to hit nice shots," he added. "But it doesn't always have to be pretty. You know, there are so many different ways to play this game."

It wasn't very pretty during Thursday's opening 73 or early yesterday as McIlroy fell right off the pace with a double-bogey six at four. After a sweet birdie at seven, he missed a three-footer for par at the next and then rammed home a 12-footer for another birdie at nine.

McIlroy's determination to hang tough mentally certainly was being put to the test on this emotional roller coaster as Woods led a birdie blitz as he roared off in pursuit of overnight leader Zach Johnson.

Defending champion Graeme McDowell, who outscored fellow Ulsterman McIlroy with an even-par 72 on Thursday, famously beat Tiger in sudden-death three years ago for the first of his two victories at Sherwood.

The Portrush hero got another close-up view of Woods yesterday as the world No 1 forcefully thrust himself into contention for a sixth win this season with five birdies in the first eight holes, making the two shots McDowell picked up at five and six almost look puny.

Life at the top came to an abrupt end for David Higgins at the Hong Kong Open as he followed up Thursday's unrivalled 64 with a gloomy four-over-par 74. The two rounds contrasted in myriad ways.

Crucially, the Waterville man hit just seven of 14 fairways at Fanling yesterday, four fewer than in the first round. He also hit four fewer greens in regulation but still took 32 putts instead of 25.

Still, after playing the first 14 holes in six-over, Higgins rallied with birdies at 15 and 18 to make the half-way cut comfortably in a share of 27th on two-under, five behind leader Jbe Kruger of South Africa.

At least he lives to fight another day, unlike Waterford's recent Q-School graduate Kevin Phelan, who missed the weekend by two after a 72, and Dubliner Peter Lawrie on seven-over following his second-round 70.

The Nelson Mandela Championship will go ahead at Mount Edgecombe Country Club in Durban next week, the European Tour confirms. However, the event has been brought forward a day and will be played from Wednesday to Saturday to allow proper observance of Mr Mandela's state funeral on Sunday, December 15. Six Irish golfers will play the second Nelson Mandela Championship – Simon Thornton, Michael Hoey, Damien McGrane, Ruaidhri McGee, Phelan and Higgins.

Jamie Donaldson of Wales led American Ryan Moore and Sweden's FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai double-winner Henrik Stenson by three shots through 36 holes of the 30-man Nedbank Challenge at Gary Player Country Club in Sun City.

Donaldson rounded off his storm-interrupted first-round 67 early yesterday, then breezed to 11-under with a sweet 66. Moore shot a faultless 65 in the second round and Stenson a bogey-free 67.

Hong Kong Open,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 5.0am

Nedbank Golf Challenge,

Sky Sports 4, 12.30pm

Northwestern World Challenge,

Sky Sports 4, 6.0pm

Irish Independent

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