Saturday 24 March 2018

McIlroy makes a mockery of crisis talk

William S Callahan

RORY McILROY won hands-down in his intriguing all-Ireland tussle with Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell in Memphis -- and more importantly, the 23-year-old brilliantly banished the demons that hounded him after three successive missed cuts.

Not only did McIlroy make the weekend at the FedEx St Jude Classic, he stormed into the clubhouse lead at TPC Southwind on seven-under with a superb second-round 65.

This stirring effort served as a timely confidence-boost for the Holywood star before next week's defence of his US Open title at The Olympic Club.

Judging by the quality of his play yesterday, Harrington should be among McIlroy's most dangerous rivals today and tomorrow after back-to-back 68s left him three off the Ulsterman's pace on four-under. Sadly, McDowell missed the cut on eight-over after yesterday's 73.

McIlroy had shot 79 on Friday at his two most recent tournaments but any pressure he felt setting out yesterday was eased by a magnificent start, rolling in a seven-foot putt for birdie at the second before landing a splendid eagle three at the next.

McIlroy's 353-yard drive down the par-five third was awe-inspiring, while the 182-yard mid-iron he hit to within 10 feet of the flag was exquisite. After draining the putt, he once again had that trademark spring in his step.

Swinging sweetly, McIlroy joined the lead with a sweet birdie two at 12 before recent doubts crept back into his game as he made ugly back-to-back bogeys at the next two holes.

He hit his nine-iron approach from mid-fairway into a nasty downhill lie in a greenside bunker at 13 and missed the green right with a wedge at 14, where he rammed his four-foot par-saving putt off the left lip.

Unlike Thursday, when his putter made up for imprecision in McIlroy's long game, yesterday it went cold. After a settling himself with a wonderful three-foot putt for birdie at 15, the youngster squandered a glorious eagle opportunity from inside four feet at the next.

While McDowell struggled badly, having to wait until the 12th before finding his first fairway off the tee, Harrington played sweetly, despite an opening bogey.

The Dubliner landed birdies at three, six and seven before his 340-yard drive ran just through the fairway and into water at nine, leading to bogey.


Yet McIlroy was the man, as he proved on the last, setting up a closing birdie with a majestic 330-yard drive into the heart of the fairway. Crisis! What crisis?

Meanwhile, Lee Westwood continued his inexorable march towards a third career victory in the Nordea (Scandinavian) Masters. A third-round 68 propelled the 39-year-old to 16-under, three ahead of his nearest challenger.

Gareth Maybin was leading Irishman on three-under after a battling level-par 72, but Michael Hoey's hopes of raising a significant challenge were dashed in a hail of bogeys during his 77.

The ISPS Handa PGA Seniors Championship has been reduced to 54 holes. Play was stopped yesterday morning when Slaley Hall became waterlogged after torrential rain. The top-60 and ties after 36 holes will go through to tomorrow's final round.

The St Jude Classic,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 8.0

Nordea Masters,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 12.30

Irish Independent

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