Wednesday 21 March 2018

McIlroy right at home in the hollow

Rory McIlroy. Photo: Reuters
Rory McIlroy. Photo: Reuters

Karl MacGinty and Bernie McGuire

Rory McIlroy learned harsh lessons at Augusta National; showed the resilience of youth by putting them behind him in Malaysia and now is fully expected to launch a spirited defence of his first PGA Tour title at this week's Wells Fargo Championship.

McIlroy could hardly be more comfortable than he is at Quail Hollow, where, last May, he left overnight leader Phil Mickelson and a world- class field gasping in admiration with a closing 62.

Though he turned 22 yesterday, McIlroy's mature enough in golf not to be overwhelmed by the enormity of his achievement in playing 36 holes on a Major-calibre course in 16-under as he came from just inside the cut mark on Friday to win by four.

Though he'd already won the European Tour's Dubai Desert Classic, McIlroy displayed the awesome, full extent of his talent at Quail Hollow that Sunday afternoon.

Naturally, he was exposed to intensive media questioning on his first appearance in the US since last month's nightmarish final round 80 at the Masters. Yet McIlroy handled it so adroitly, it's clear he's a quick healer.


Saying Sunday at Augusta exposed "a few weaknesses in my game that I need to work on," McIlroy admitted it boiled down to one conclusion: "I don't think I was ready," (to cope with the pressure of taking a strong lead into the final round at the Masters).

He went on: "I was just trying to stay ahead of the field, which in hindsight probably wasn't a good thing."

Significantly, McIlroy had his first session at the practice green on Monday with Dave Stockton (70), the two-time US PGA-winner and former Ryder Cup captain, who has helped Mickelson and Annika Sorenstam perfect the art of putting.

As he tries to hammer out this solitary dent in his armour, McIlroy certainly enjoys a lot more peace of mind at Quail Hollow than Padraig Harrington, in dire need of a decent performance after missing the cut in three of his last four events.

For all of McIlroy's flair, however, one half-expects Martin Kaymer to win on a course which suits his ball-flight a lot better than Augusta.

LOWRY confident his season will improve

BOOSTED by his best finish of the year at The Ballantines Championship, Shane Lowry is ready to go roaring into "the business end of my season" at this week's Spanish Open in El Prat.

Lowry made a disappointing start to his 2011 campaign after breaking his wrist in mid-winter, but the Clara man (24) described his tie for 13th place in South Korea last Sunday as "a big turning point for me.

"To be honest, I never had any doubt it would come," he added.

"It was just a matter of regaining a bit of confidence and I believe I did that last week in Seoul because I felt I played good enough to contend.

"I'd 18 birdies and an eagle over the four days. But for a couple of dropped shots, I could've been right up there."

He's been joined in Barcelona this week by coach Neil Manchip.

Just 17 when he first met the Scot on his appointment as GUI National Coach, Lowry said: "Neil's been very good for me. He gets me in the right frame of mind to play golf, so it's great to have him here.

"I'm playing these two weeks in Spain then taking a week off before the BMW PGA at Wentworth, then Celtic Manor, Italy and the two Major qualifiers.

"So, this week is the start of the business end of the season for me."

El Prat could witness a fascinating three-way tussle this week between some very different characters.

Firstly, there's golden oldie Miguel Angel Jimenez (47) -- yet to win his national championship; then Italian teenage sensation Matteo Manassero, (18), who recently claimed his second European Tour title in Malaysia, and defending champion Alvaro Quiros, who currently is out of sorts with his driver.

An impressive second place in Korea hints at a first Spanish Open title for Jimenez.

Welcome change is blowing in the wind

NEWS that golf's controlling bodies plan to change controversial Rule 18 (2) (b) will come as a relief to Padraig Harrington.

American Webb Simpson became the rule's latest high-profile victim last Sunday when he was penalised one stroke on the 15th green during the final round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

A gust of wind moved Simpson's ball after address on the super-slick putting surface and the resulting bogey dropped him back into a tie with Bubba Watson, who then beat him in sudden-death.

Amid this week's outcry, the USGA revealed that "since well before 2004" the offending rule has been under discussion "with our partners the R&A" and, "subject to approval", an amendment will be made, probably by the start of the new rules cycle in 2012.


No penalty would be applied under the proposed new exception "if it was known or virtually certain" a player did not cause his ball to move.

Harrington's been haunted by this rule since the 2009 Masters, when he was penalised one stroke after his ball moved after address on the 15th green.

"I've probably missed more putts in the last 18 months because of that," he recently confessed. "It definitely had a knock-on effect. Every time it's windy, I'm worried about the ball moving, so I don't quite get into my routine.

"Obviously, if you're worried about the ball moving, you're not focussing on holing the putt," added the Dubliner.

Harrington was unwittingly thrust to the centre of another rule change controversy by his disqualification in Abu Dhabi last January.

Open de Espana,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 10.30

Wells Fargo Championship,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 8.0

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport