McIlroy throws his toys out of the buggy
Ulsterman slumps to produce a petulant, error-strewn display as frustration get the better of him
RORY McILROY finally cracked at Merion yesterday, letting himself down badly with a couple of acts of petulance on the same US Open stage he'd illuminated with his brilliance two short years ago.
Six months of frustration for the 24-year-old Holywood native percolated into anger on the East Course at Merion Golf Club.
Legends like Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Lee Trevino have walked to glory on these pristine fairways but McIlroy did a disservice to their feats as he threw one club on the fifth hole and then broke his wedge in fury on 11 on his way to a six over par 76.
Great expectations inevitably weigh down on McIlroy after his record-breaking first Major championship victory at the 2011 US Open in Congressional and last August's equally impressive march to glory at the US PGA in Kiawah Island.
Yet after thrusting himself to the pinnacle of world golf in the second half of last year, McIlroy has cried out for confidence and consistency in 2013 as he grappled with new Nike equipment and morale-sapping glitches in his game.
Before yesterday, we thought he'd reach his nadir at the Honda Classic in March, when McIlroy fled the course before completing the ninth hole of an error-strewn second round.
Yet McIlroy's behaviour under the world's gaze in the final round was unworthy of one of golf's four Major championships. It was as shocking as a slap in the face to a sport which requires its great champions to show dignity and decorum at all times.
Genius has its dark side and in his teenage days playing at amateur championships at home in Ireland, McIlroy would occasionally let his temper get the better of him.
We've almost become used to seeing and hearing angry indiscretions from his good friend and great rival Tiger Woods. However, McIlroy must be judged not by those low standards but the code of behaviour established by legendary gentlemen of the past and those who scrupulously live by it now.
When was the last time you saw US Open champion-elect Phil Mickelson throw a club? Or Padraig Harrington give way to the anguish of five years struggling to regain the peak of perfection he reached in 2008. That's right... never!
McIlroy's temper snapped twice yesterday as his mediocre US Open ended in ignomy. For the record, he rounded off his tournament on 14-over after his closing 76. Yet a sour taste was left by his regrettable behaviour and not his mediocre golf.
Incidentally, Harrington finished on the fringes of the top-20 on 11-over-par after a final round 72, a fine effort in difficult playing conditions.
One of the second favourites to Tiger as rain doused the East Course early last week, McIlroy's tournament never really took off. After the world No 1 and 2 both opened with rounds of 73 and 70, they couldn't build on this relatively solid platform.
After slumping out of contention with a third round 75, McIlroy set his sights on finishing "this US Open on a positive note and get something out of it".
However, after a birdie at the par-five second hole, he stalled with a bogey on the next before fate dealt him a rough deal on the difficult par-four fifth, where his tee shot wound-up under the lip of a fairway bunker.
After inverting his club and whipping the ball back onto the fairway with a deft left-handed flick, McIlroy snapped when he played his third shot poorly and the ball fell well short of the green.
He threw the offending wedge at his bag and it bounced back in his direction, forcing the Ulsterman to bend and pick it up before going on to complete a double-bogey six at the hole.
McIlroy birdied seven but his temper truly snapped at the picturesque 11th hole, where, famously, American golfing icon Jones, a bit of a firebrand himself in his early days, wrapped-up the Grand Slam in 1930 by completing an 8&7 victory in the final of the US Amateur Championship.
After pulling his tee shot into the creek there, McIlroy took a drop on the 12th fairway and then, to his utter exasperation, hit his next into the water.
Plainly furious, he dug the head of his wedge into the turf and leaned upon it so heavily, the shaft bent and almost broke. Under rule, it now longer could be used in competition.
"I just hit a bad tee shot into the creek there," he explained. "What you don't want to do as a golfer is follow one mistake with another, and that's what I did. Obviously I got a bit frustrated.
"It's a hole you want to try to take advantage of," McIlroy added. "It's a hole that you want to at least give yourself a birdie chance. And you walk off with a quad and it's not very good."
Asked if it reflected a week of frustration, McIlroy responded: "Yeah, exactly. I think that's what this tournament does to you. At one point or another it's got the better of you, and it definitely did this weekend."
The consequences should stretch well beyond the eight he ran up at the hole, with a hefty fine likely to be weighed against the Northern Irishman by the USGA. On Saturday, as he'd tried to explain why a tournament which promised so much might yield so little, McIlroy admitted he lacked the "confidence and fluidity" necessary to play consistently better. "I don't have any other way to explain it," he added. "I've been working quite hard on the swing for the last few months and it looks pretty good on camera. I just get on the course and hit a couple of bad shots and lose confidence during a round."
In fairness, the East Course in US Open mode probably is the last place any golfer should go seeking his game, confidence or consistency. Even the leading contenders in this championship had to overcome numbing setbacks on the road into contention.
McIlroy's best chance of finding himself once again will be at next week's Irish Open on the Montgomerie Course in Carton and Irish fans can brace themselves for a display which will be intensely interesting, if not spectacular.
Tiger Woods also had an eight on his card, at the par-five second hole, as this US Open failed to yield his long-awaited 15th Grand Slam title but a Major question mark instead.
The failure of Woods to putt with any confidence on the perplexing greens at Merion yielded a closing 74 yesterday, leaving him wallowing well down the leaderboard on 13-over-par.
Even his legions of fans will wonder if Tiger ever will scale the large mental barrier between himself and a return to glory on the game's greatest stage.
"Yeah, I didn't make a lot of putts the first couple of days or yesterday," admitted Woods, who shot 76 on Saturday.
"I had three-putts the first couple of days, while yesterday, I obviously I did not play well. Today was a little bit strung out in these conditions, which are tough. There's not a lot of low scores out there for sure."
Most golfers left this US Open with the roars of excited, 25,000-strong crowds ringing in their ears... but for Sergio Garcia, the overriding noise he heard over four days was clucking as fans impersonated chickens in the wake of last month's racial jibe at Tiger.
Remarkably, Garcia played quite well at this tournament and but for his hapless performance on the 14th and 15th holes, which he played in a staggering 12-over, the Spaniard would have been well in contention as a closing 74 dropped him to 15-over for a championship he won't remember fondly.