Friday 19 January 2018

Miseries come back to haunt McIlroy

Rory McIlroy watches his shot to the first hole at the beginning of a front nine in which he dropped six shots
Rory McIlroy watches his shot to the first hole at the beginning of a front nine in which he dropped six shots

William S Callahan

As Martin Kaymer rediscovered the calm, polished efficiency which made him a Major champion at age 26 to romp into a clear clubhouse lead at The Players, Rory McIlroy's waking nightmares returned at Sawgrass.

Conditions were markedly tougher during yesterday's second round as the wind rose and the greens on the Champions Course, several of them scarred after a rough winter and an accidental overdose of chemical treatment, grew hard and a little crusty.

Yet Kaymer rose above it all as he followed Thursday's course record-equalling 63 with a rock-steady three-under-par 69 with a brand of golf we've rarely seen from the German since he won the 2010 US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

"It was quite difficult today, certainly a little tougher, while expectations were high after the first round, so 69 is a good score," said Kaymer, whose only slips yesterday came when he missed a couple of short par putts.

Intriguingly, he explained his recent return to good form after several seasons recovering from ill-fated efforts to expand his repertoire and hit a draw by saying: "I stopped thinking, that's pretty much the bottom line."

In contrast, McIlroy appeared haunted by past miseries at Sawgrass during an appalling five-hole stretch on the front nine yesterday in which he frittered away six shots.

After dropping three shots in the final seven holes of his first-round 70, the 25-year-old had ground to make-up if he was to emulate last year's share of eighth place at The Players.

Instead, the spectre of a fourth missed cut in five appearances on Pete Dye's masterpiece arose for McIlroy.

After missing a couple of decent birdie chances on the opening two holes, the Holywood native played slipshod golf and missed a shocking series of short putts as he followed bogeys at three, four and five with a double-bogey six at the sixth, then yet another dropped shot at seven.

In stark contrast, Graeme McDowell appeared to hole putts with abandon as he followed Thursday's 69 by completing his outward half in two-under 34, a whopping eight shots better than his fellow Ulsterman.

Darren Clarke needed to shoot the lights out to make the weekend after Thursday's 76 so the three-putt bogey he made from 42 feet at the first yesterday was a real heart-breaker.

ENTERTAIN

Still, the 45-year-old Ulsterman, playing with Kaymer, managed to entertain the early-comers in yesterday's 45,000 crowd at The Stadium Course with some magic of his own, even if a second-round 73 left him well beyond the pale on five-over par.

Clarke needed to sink putts of four feet or less for three consecutive birdies through five; made bogey out of the left trap at eight; dropped six shots in four holes through 14, including a triple-bogey six after putting two balls in the water at 13; then made another stirring hat-trick of birdies at 13, 16 and the island green at 17.

By that time, of course, Clarke's fate was sealed. Already consigned to his fifth missed cut in seven events, the 2011 Open champion played beautifully uninhibited golf down the stretch at Sawgrass.

Clearly, it's still in there – just a matter of Clarke getting it out. Or as Kaymer said so eloquently yesterday, simply play without thinking.

Adam Scott spent an anxious afternoon teetering on the projected cut mark after following an abject 77 on Thursday with a fighting 67 yesterday.

With those on even par expected to make the weekend, this brave effort by the Aussie may keep alive, just, his prospects of attaining the top-16 finish he needs tomorrow to replace injured Tiger Woods at world No 1.

The three other guys who also have a chance of vaulting Woods to the top of the world, made it through safely.

Henrik Stenson (needing a top-six finish to take No 1) posted a second-round 70 to join Bubba Watson (who needs outright second) on three-under, while Matt Kuchar (who must win) posted back-to-back 71s to lie 10 strokes off Kaymer's lead on two-under.

Scotland's Henry Scott swept into a two-stroke lead in the clubhouse with a five-under-par 67 when the first round of the Madeira Island's Open eventually got under way at lunchtime yesterday when thick fog lifted off the mountaintop course at Santo da Serra.

David Higgins completed a 72; Peter Lawrie and Gareth Shaw reached the clubhouse in 73, while Ruaidhri McGee (even through three), host club pro Dara Ford (even through two) and Kevin Phelan (two-over through eight) were still on the course with half of the field when darkness fell last night.

THE PLAYER CHAMPIONSHIP

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