Monday 22 January 2018

Off The Ball: Tiger beware – Rory back and looking out for No 1

My inner-golfing nerd giddy after watching McIlroy return to brilliant best in Australia

Rory McIlroy holds aloft the Australian Open trophy
Rory McIlroy holds aloft the Australian Open trophy

Joe Molloy

I worry about my take-away. It can get very fast without me realising. That, of course, has a knock-on effect on my wrist-hinge. And there's my right leg, which is fond of straightening on the backswing. Disaster.

Catching my reflection in public is problematic, for the temptation to hold the top of the backswing pose and analyse my swing plane is overwhelming. (It's still too flat).

Putting is an odyssey. I've come back from the yips more times then Bernhard Langer. I'm currently flirting with a very open stance and also looking to really take my hands out of the stroke. I sit at my desk and subtlety rehearse the grip. In the palms for putting, in the fingers for a full swing. Golf has been sent from another planet to destroy obsessive-compulsives.

Of course, watching golf is almost as good as playing. I watch lots. I watch when Phil Mickelson wins the Open and I watch when Chris Kirk wins The McGladrey Classic. A Thursday is as good as a Sunday.

Yet in 2013, the unthinkable happened. Watching Rory McIlroy became very grim. He came to represent an overexposed, dull narrative, which wouldn't go away.

His golf was loose. He talked about Nike clubs. He talked about 'off-course distractions'. He stopped talking about his girlfriend. He stopped talking about the Olympics. It wasn't even compelling to watch his decline in a grim sort of way. It was just grim.

He became a drain on the game. Part of the frustration was that we knew he'd come back eventually. But waiting was tedious. Compared to Mickelson at Muirfield or Adam Scott at Augusta, his contribution was horribly colourless.

But recently, there have been green shoots. And so, on Sunday, I made it my business to watch the final round of the Australian Open. Feet up and coffee ready. Rory was four shots off the seemingly unstoppable Scott.

What transpired was one of the best final rounds of the year. Augusta and Muirfield 2013 are hard to beat, but this was glorious. The game's two best swings were side by side, fighting it out. Putts weren't dropping for Scott. Rory was utterly sensational.

On the seventh, a par-5, he hit his second from over 220 yards to within 12 feet. Scott looked on as Rory holed for eagle to move to within one shot. The home fans sensed trouble. It is worth pointing out that the Australian was seven shots clear of Rory on Thursday. Thus, from Friday to Sunday, Rory annihilated the field.

It was a jolting, thrilling reminder of why he's such a big deal. Rory does things that other golfers don't. He's one of the few who goes way beyond the parameters of excellence taken for granted in professional golf. And, although this wasn't quite the perfection of Congressional or Kiawah, that level of performance is on the way.

So, my inner-golfing nerd is positively giddy and the 2014 season has taken on a new energy. Only two players in the world truly focus the attention of the casual sports fan. Tiger is one. The other is back, at last.


Irish Independent

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