Monday 16 December 2019

McIlroy determined to find a cure for the Friday blues

Karl MacGinty

Rory McIlroy must solve one of the most baffling riddles in golf if he's to lift the Claret Jug at Hoylake.

Unlike the vast majority of his rivals at the British Open, McIlroy's hopes of collecting his third Major victory may rest more on his performance this Friday than in Sunday's final round.

There were echoes of that famous 1967 hit by Australian band The Easybeats at Royal Liverpool yesterday as McIlroy admitted he has Friday on his mind after a harrowing series of second-round slumps this year.

This perplexing trend continued at the Scottish Open last Friday, when McIlroy followed a phenomenal course record 64 at Royal Aberdeen with an abject 78 in the second round.

The yawning 14-stroke margin between those two rounds was one less than the sickening 15-shot swing endured by the 25-year-old the day after his stunning 63 in the first round at The Memorial last month.

McIlroy has bettered his first-round score on Friday only three times in 13 stroke-play tournaments this year, in Abu Dhabi and at last month's US and Irish Opens, though, ironically, he missed the cut at the latter.

The Holywood native yesterday admitted it has become a recurring problem. "I think it is," he said. "And it's one I'd like to stop this week.

"I think I may be putting too much pressure on myself going out on Fridays and trying to back up a score," McIlroy added as he tried to explain this perplexing trend.

"I've no problem shooting a low one on Thursday, so there should be no problem shooting a low one on Friday. I think it just got into my head. Perhaps I need to go out (in the second round) and pretend it's a Thursday again."

"It's more like really trying to get off to a solid start, just play a few solid holes and get your round under way that way," he said.

McIlroy tends to drop shots in clusters, following one dodgy hole with a few more in an impetuous effort to make up lost ground. It's interesting that of the nine occasions he took 40 or more strokes to complete nine holes, seven of them occurred on Friday.

While the wind did a complete volte-face at Royal Aberdeen last Friday, making the course more difficult to play, that doesn't explain McIlroy's collapse.

Though he was wayward from tee to green and found himself in an inordinate number of bunkers, perhaps the most telling harbinger of doom that afternoon was the three-foot putt McIlroy pulled left of the hole as he made bogey on the first.


At his best, he is a fine putter but once he starts to lose confidence on the greens, problems elsewhere are compounded.

McIlroy has just one top-10 finish in six appearances at The Open, a tie for third at St Andrews in 2010, where he equalled the all-time low score at golf's Majors with a 63 on Thursday, then followed with a storm-hit 80 on Friday.

It's widely assumed that he has difficulty adjusting his soaring ball-flight to play in the cold, heavy air and driving sea breezes.

"I guess when you go out on Tour and especially if you play the majority of your golf in the US, you start to neglect some of the shots you might need in conditions like this," he said. "Hopefully, I'll evolve as a links player and go forward and improve. The Open Championship is very important to me. My record in it hasn't been as good as I'd like and I'd love to improve on that."

As he marched to his second record-shattering Major championship success at the US PGA on Kiawah Island two years ago, McIlroy played beautifully on Friday, when the Ocean Course was battered by powerful winds and driving rain.

One suspects his prospects of winning The Claret Jug, just like his Friday foibles this year, are due as much to the winds of doubt whistling around inside his head.

The hurdles McIlroy must cross at Hoylake are more mental than meteorological.

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