Tuesday 24 April 2018

Magical McIlroy consigns meltdown to history

Rory McIlroy reacts to a missed putt on the fourth green
Rory McIlroy reacts to a missed putt on the fourth green

CRISIS! What crisis? Rory McIlroy showed the resilience of youth as he banished memories of an angst-ridden week and eased back into his comfort zone on the golf course.

As Tiger Woods wrapped up his 76th PGA Tour victory and 17th at the World Golf Championships, McIlroy re-established his reputation as the pop star of his sport with a virtuoso final-round 65 at the Cadillac.

Even Donald Trump, gregarious owner of the Doral Resort, came down from his sky-box at 18 to hail the Holywood youngster, saying: "Great job, Rory, you're hitting it well."

Then Trump turned to the assembled media, pointed to the 23-year-old and bellowed: "He's tough, this guy's tough!"

So, too, is Graeme McDowell, who shared third place on 14-under with Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia, his best finish at the prestigious WGCs, after a closing 72.

The Portrush man drove the ball beautifully all week and was inspired around the greens, including a chip-in birdie at 14 yesterday. However, he was furious with a double-bogey at 18 after hitting his approach into an unplayable lie on the rock shelf around the green ... an error which cost him $172,000.

McDowell's playing companion, Woods, sealed his seventh victory at this WGC event, his fourth at Doral and fifth in 19 PGA Tour starts with a workmanlike 71.

Steve Stricker, who gave Tiger a telling putting lesson here on Wednesday, completed his second runner-up finish of 2013 on 17-under, two behind his grateful 'pupil' thanks to a fine closing 68. Interestingly, Woods has never before had just 100 putts in 72 holes.

McIlroy had not imagined one of the most traumatic weeks of his career finishing with such a flourish as he soared to 10-under for the tournament and a share of eighth.

"A day like today felt like a long way away if I'm honest," he said. "That's always been one of my problems. I always think when I'm playing badly that it's further away than it really is.

Patient

"I guess I just have to stay patient and let whatever happens happen. I probably wear my heart on my sleeve a bit much with my golf. If I have a bad round, it's sort of like the end of the world. But if I play a good one, I'm happy again.

"I was pretty down with my game coming into this week but after a few days like I've played, it does my confidence a world of good."

Even in yesterday's buffeting Ocean breezes, Doral's Blue Monster offered McIlroy a perfect opportunity for rehabilitation following last Friday week's meltdown at The Honda.

There hardly could be a less hostile environment for the youngster to mend his bruised confidence, especially with no halfway cut at the Cadillac.

Yet the greatest battle McIlroy faced in Miami were his own demons.

Stripped of his confidence at PGA National, McIlroy and his coach Michael Bannon immersed themselves in remedial work on his ailing game, while the rest of the world engaged in doom-laden analysis of his new equipment.

McIlroy struggled during Thursday's 73, his usually silken technique hampered by conscious efforts to get his swing back on plane.

Yet he reached a 'Eureka moment' on the range that evening. "So I went out on Friday, played a lot better and continued that into the weekend," he said.

He played more freely in the second round, even cracked a smile or two on the course as he breezed to a 69, McIlroy's first sub-par round of a fraught season.

Five birdies in a stunning six-hole stretch on the back nine on Saturday exorcised all gremlins in his long game, making it easier to shrug off any shortcomings on and around the greens as the inevitable consequence of neglect after he had spent so much time working on the range.

Twenty-four hours later, the five three-putts which blighted his opening 54 holes were consigned to history as McIlroy performed with pomp on and around Doral's greens.

From the moment he bisected the first fairway with his 330-yard tee shot yesterday, McIlroy looked utterly in concert with his swing, not to mention those new Nike clubs – especially so after he rolled in an 18-foot putt for eagle.

Any questions about his short game were answered when McIlroy hit a lovely chip from the left rough for a tap-in par at three, holed a 15-foot birdie putt at five and got up and down with aplomb from a greenside bunker at six.

Three-under through nine, he picked up facile back-to-back birdies at 10 and 11 and landed another brace when he chipped to a foot at the driveable par-four 16th and then rammed home a six-footer at 17 after hitting the flag with his wedged approach.

McIlroy confirmed there is no need to beef up his pre-Masters schedule. He will work on his game in private this week and next before playing the Shell Houston Open, a fortnight before Augusta.

Irish Independent

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