Monday 22 January 2018

McIlroy aims to do talking in Memphis

William S Callahan

RORY McILROY'S decision to play in Memphis next week represents a make-or-break bid by the 23-year-old to rediscover his 'A' game before opening the defence of his US Open title at San Francisco's Olympic Club on Thursday week.

After failing to make it through the halfway cut at The Players in Sawgrass and the BMW PGA at Wentworth, McIlroy admitted he'd taken his "eye off the ball" recently.

By entering the FedEx St Jude Classic in Memphis and breaking with his usual practice of taking the week off before a Major championship, McIlroy made clear his belief that he needs more competitive golf, and fast, to get back his edge.

McIlroy is shrewd and astute well beyond his years, but the wisdom of going to Memphis must be questioned, especially since it probably will deny him the chance to gauge in person the strategic challenge of Olympic before US Open week.

Foregoing a valuable opportunity to peruse Olympic in private is not the only potential downside to playing the St Jude.

The other was clearly outlined by Phil Mickelson as he left Muirfield Village on Thursday evening citing "exhaustion" as the reason for his controversial withdrawal from the Memorial Tournament after shooting a hapless 79 in the first round.

Asked if he would play in Tennessee next week, he said: "No. I think the US Open is such a mental and physical grind, you need to be sharp going in there. Memphis is so hot, that it takes a lot out of you to play that week."

And make no mistake, it can get bitterly cold in San Francisco in June.

Naturally, as his 42nd birthday looms and he battles with psoriatic arthritis, Mickelson's no longer a young man. Indeed, with dark rings under his eyes, Lefty looked old as he bled out seven shots in the final seven holes of his first round at Memorial.

Yet, pointedly, TPC Southwind has not been a venue of choice for any of the five US Open champions crowned since the St Jude was moved to its current place on the PGA Tour roster in 2007.

Meanwhile, Memphis regular Padraig Harrington has missed the cut twice and failed to finish in the top-20 at the season's second Major for those five years.

McIlroy himself played the St Jude in 2010 and failed to make the weekend seven days later on the Pacific Ocean shore at Pebble Beach.

One suspects he may repent an overly hasty decision to play next week at his leisure. In the meantime, McIlroy continued his battle yesterday to make the weekend at Memorial yesterday evening after thunderstorms interrupted the second round.

dropped

Spencer Levin shot 72 yesterday and Scott Stallings signed for a 73 to share the early clubhouse lead on five-under. A second-round 74 left US Masters champion Bubba Watson wallowing on five-over, two outside the projected cut.

Ross Fisher has dropped 130 places to No 157 in the world since he played in the 2010 Ryder Cup, but now the Englishman hopes the good times are back after a sparkling return to form at Celtic Manor .

Thanks to a five-under-par second-round of 66 on the 2010 Course, Fisher (31) leads the European Tour's ISPS Handa Wales Open at half way.

"Hopefully, this'll be the start of a big summer for me," said Fisher, who's not had a single top-five finish for almost 18 months.

"I guess it's the dreaded curse of the comedown from the Ryder Cup. You have such high expectations and it's been disappointing."

Fisher had fallen to 72nd on the Ryder Cup points table with only 12 weeks of the race to go but has not given up all hope of making Jose Maria Olazabal's team at Medinah in September.

Just 11 players beat par over the gruelling first 36 holes at Celtic Manor. Ireland's best were Simon Thornton, who shot 73 yesterday, and, after back-to-back 71's, Damien McGrane in a tie for 12th on level par.

Paul McGinley and Peter Lawrie also made it through to the weekend in 39th on three-over after matching 73s.

Wales Open,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 1.0

The Memorial Tournament,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 5.30

Irish Independent

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