Sunday 25 February 2018

McIlroy needs to regain Midas touch around greens

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy

William S Callahan

RORY McILROY has sorted out the long, but not the short of it. The hard work he invested in getting his driving back in order during a frustrating summer clearly has been rewarded.

Graeme McDowell hit the nail on the head after playing the first round with McIlroy in Shanghai. "It was a bit ominous, he drove like the Rory of old. He was awesome."

However, this has been achieved at a price. In recent months, as the 24-year-old's long game began to come round, McIlroy's touch around the green has been found wanting, as it was once again yesterday at the BMW Masters.

Good though it is to see the Holywood native striking the ball well and strutting his stuff on the fairways at Lake Malaren, until he reacquires that Midas touch, he's unlikely to scale the heady heights of 2012. Now he's got his driver sorted, it's probably just a matter of time, before McIlroy can once again be considered a world-beater. Breaking his victory drought this season would be of immeasurable help, a prospect not yet out of McIlroy's reach in Shanghai, even if he wallowed seven off the pace set by American Luke Guthrie (23) after a windswept opening 36 holes.

Following his level-par 72 yesterday, McIlroy's admission that he "could have been a few better" and "didn't take advantage of some of the opportunities I gave myself" sounded much like Thursday's refrain and his comments last Sunday after tying second at the Korea Open. He added optimistically: "I still haven't done myself much damage and, hopefully, the weather clears by the weekend and we can start making a few more birdies."

McIlroy has made double-bogeys in 70pc of his rounds since July, but is delighted to have avoided such grievous errors this week, so far. "I'm definitely more consistent with my ball-striking, which is a big thing," he explained. "When you do that, you're not going to hit as many shots off-line or as many destructive shots. That's been a good thing. I wasn't quite efficient enough the first two days in terms of taking advantage of my opportunities, but I'm not too far away."

That McIlroy took 32 putts in each of his first two rounds here was due as much to poor chipping and his failure to get his ball close to the hole than it was to his performance with that Nike Method putter.

Three-under and tied fifth after his second birdie of the day at seven, McIlroy failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker to save par at eight. Clumsily, he also took three to get down for a par-five at 13 after missing the green right. He drove left and into trouble on his way to bogey at 14. After holing a nice seven-footer for birdie at the next, McIlroy made bogey at the last, where he blocked his approach short right of the green and once again failed to get up-and-down.

Newly-wed McDowell marked his return from a five weeks break with a fine 70 on Thursday, but lost the magical touch with his putter as a 74 dropped him into a share of 19th with Padraig Harrington (72) on level-par.

The Portrush man was still two shots ahead of Henrik Stenson, the Swede who leads him by €425,573 in the Race to Dubai. Paul McGinley opened with a hat-trick of birdies, before settling for a 71. The Ryder Cup captain was tied 39th on four-over, one ahead of Shane Lowry, who rebounded from Thursday's 78 with a 71 of his own.

It'd be easier to celebrate Guthrie's performance, as he eased four clear on eight-under with a 71, had the talented US PGA Tour rookie not been so infuriatingly slow. His innumerable practice swings and waggles before each shot will land Guthrie in trouble with European officials. His threeball maintained their position only because John Daly is blindingly quick and Peter Uihlein doesn't hang about either.

Daly, followed Thursday's incredible 68 with a 74, while Uihlein shot 75.

Meanwhile, Keegan Bradley surged to 13-under and four clear of Ryan Moore with a 66 at the US Tour's CIMB Classic at Kuala Lumpur Country Club.

BMW Masters, Live, Sky Sports 3, 6.0am

Irish Independent

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