Monday 18 December 2017

McIlroy's bold effort sinks with late lapse

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, watches his shot on the ninth hole during the final round of the St. Jude Classic golf tournament.
Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, watches his shot on the ninth hole during the final round of the St. Jude Classic golf tournament.

Karl MacGinty in San Francisco

JUST when it looked as if Rory McIlroy would go roaring into this week's defence of his US Open crown on the crest of a wave, the 23-year-old took a real kick in the guts on the final hole in Memphis yesterday.

McIlroy's hurried decision to add the FedEx St Jude Classic to his schedule after three successive missed cuts looked set to pay off in truly spectacular fashion as he stood on the 18th tee at TPC Southwind in a four-way tie for the lead on eight-under.

Yet the youngster slammed his tee-shot into the water and then three-putted for the closing double-bogey six which left McIlroy with a one-under-par 69 and tied seventh on six-under, three behind Dustin Johnson.

The towering American, who turns 28 later this month, sealed his sixth PGA Tour win with two birdies in the final three holes.

Johnson now enters the US Open hoping to break one of the longest hexes in Major Championship history -- never before has anyone lifted the US Open trophy after winning the week before.

Now there's a 'jinx' McIlroy happily would have taken-on -- indeed, as he brilliantly breezed through the opening 11 holes in four-under to come from one behind overnight and, briefly, take a two-stroke lead, the Ulsterman looked almost invincible.

Okay, back-to-back bogeys out of a greenside bunker at 12 and another three-putt at 13 rocked him. But McIlroy rekindled his hopes of victory by sinking a 20-foot putt for a superb birdie at 17.

In fairness, he could stamp 'Mission Accomplished' on his Memphis foray after making the cut on Friday and McIlroy doubtless will draw confidence from the progress he's made with his swing.

Yet as he girds himself for his fifth tournament in six weeks, McIlroy could have done with the adrenaline rush which that final hole slip-up cost him.

Sadly, Padraig Harrington also hit his tee-shot into the water at 18, a final-round 69 leaving the Dubliner with a share of 13th on four-under.

US Open week dawned in gleaming sunshine in San Francisco's south-western suburbs yesterday.

Just the faintest frisson of Pacific Ocean mist cloaked the fairways of Olympic Golf Club. On a glorious Sunday morning, the Lake Course looked serene. Yet, like a sleeping lion, it's expected to awake with a roar on Thursday and re-establish the US Open as the most fearsome of golf's four Majors.


This week is payback time for the gentlemen of the USGA, who are expected to exact full recompense following McIlroy's record-breaking romp at Congressional 12-months ago.

With so many of Olympic's narrow, dog-legged fairways evilly cambered to throw all, but the most perfectly sculpted tee shots into the rough, it'll take the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job to survive if it sets up as hard and fast as one expects at the US Open.

Not not even Johnson will overpower this golf course.

Even at his Congressional pomp, McIlroy would not be an automatic choice to win at Olympic. Like the swashbuckling Phil Mickelson or recent Masters champion Bubba Watson, the youngster's adventurous nature is likely to bring on too much attrition to give him a fighting chance this week.

Next Sunday's winner will need to box clever at Olympic. Graeme McDowell, last man standing at Pebble Beach two years ago, would have been a perfect candidate were it not for recent inconsistency.

Unlike 2010, when McDowell went to Pebble on a high after a sensational Welsh Open success, the Portrush man missed his third successive strokeplay cut last Friday.

Conversely, that stunning victory at Memorial last week establishes Tiger Woods as the pick of the field this week.

Realistically, nobody can rival Tiger at his best in the Major arena.

Yet after winning at Bay Hill, Tiger stumbled at the Masters. Should he do so again, two-time PGA Tour winner Jason Dufner; world No 1 Luke Donald, 2003 US Open champion Jim Furyk or Mr Precision at last month's Players Championship, Matt Kuchar, fit the identikit picture at Olympic.

Lee Westwood is another who has traded handsomely on his precision from tee to green.

Were it not for his tendency to seize up around and on the greens when the chips are down at the Majors, Westwood, who romped to a career-third Nordea Masters in Sweden on Saturday, might almost be fancied to break US Open taboo. While he showed some nice form in Memphis, Harrington's too error-prone right now to inspire confidence this week.

Peter Lawrie's steady game and temperament is well suited to the Olympic challenge, but it's expecting a lot of any man to challenge at his first US Open.

So, McIlroy is Ireland's best shot by far of a stunning third successive US Open victory ... yet he's tried to do too much, too late, to be mentally fresh enough for this week's ordeal by the ocean.

Irish Independent

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