McIlroy proves his mettle
RORY McILROY can grind it out with the best of them.
Any doubts about the Holywood star's ability to dig deep in the face of adversity were dispelled yesterday as McIlroy fought back after a truly shocking start at The Memorial Tournament to post an uplifting one-under- par 71.
After missing the cut in his two most recent events at Sawgrass and Wentworth, McIlroy joked on Tuesday: "These two-day weeks aren't really that good for me."
Seasoned observers sensed a hint of panic behind McIlroy's smile as he threw himself headlong into lengthy remedial work on the range with his swing coach Michael Bannon and added next week's St Jude Classic in Memphis to his tournament schedule.
Yet the 23-year-old knocked all such surmising squarely on the head yesterday, showing remarkable resilience and patience instead as he rebounded from a nightmarish quadruple-bogey on only his third hole of the tournament, the 184-yard par three 12th at Muirfield Village.
"It wasn't the start I wanted to get off to, especially after the last few weeks," he admitted. "It was just like 'here we go again'. But I hung in there well and I'm proud of myself for the way I fought back.
"To finish the round under par was a really good effort, I thought," added McIlroy, whose tee shot at 12 flew over the green and into an "impossible" downhill lie in the back bunker. He could only look on in horror as his next shot ran through the green into the lake.
"My ball finished in the one spot it couldn't, on the downslope, and I'd no shot. I was trying to land it just out of the bunker in the rough and let it tumble down to the green, but I had such an awkward stance, it was hard to execute the shot.
"I flew it maybe a few yards too far and it went in the water at the far side," he explained.
"I tried to stay patient and not think about the score. Just think about what I'm working on and try and make a few good swings."
With considerable help from his putter, McIlroy managed to keep his cool. Crucially, he holed a nine-foot putt to save par at 13 before steadying the ship with nice back-to-back birdies at 14 and 15.
He then sank an eight-foot clutch putt for bogey at 17, probably the toughest hole on the golf course, after his approach from the right fairway bunker tumbled into the stream in front of the green.
Three-over through nine, McIlroy rattled in a 19-foot putt for birdie at the third before chipping in from the front fringe for an eagle three at the fifth, a fantastic fillip which may in time be seen as a turning-point in his season.
"That eagle was nice and it got me back to even par. That was the goal I'd set myself after nine holes," he continued.
"I said to myself 'if I can get back to even par here, that'd be a good score'. To finish one better really is a bonus," added McIlroy, who rounded off his day by sinking a seven-footer for birdie at nine, his final hole.
After a second-round 79 left him nine-over-par last Friday and out after 36 holes of the BMW PGA Championship last Friday, McIlroy admitted he'd "taken his eye off the ball" recently.
Since then, he has been hitting countless balls to get his swing "back to where it was earlier this year" in time for his US Open title defence at Olympic the week after next.
As a result, his head was full of swing thoughts yesterday, making this one-under-par effort all the more satisfying.
Luke Donald, who knocked McIlroy off the top of the world with last Sunday's victory at Wentworth, played with the Ulsterman yesterday and was impressed.
"Obviously, not having played well in his last two events, Rory would have felt some pressure after he made that seven," said Donald. "Considering the circumstances, he stuck in well."
Donald's own first-round 71 included a double-bogey six at 18, his ninth hole.
Tiger Woods, a four-times winner at Memorial, opened with a satisfying 70 to lie three off the early clubhouse lead set by Spencer Levin with a five-under 67.
The Memorial Tournament,
Live, Sky Sports 3, 8.0
Irish Independent Sport Star Awards
Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.