Wednesday 13 December 2017

Rory McIlroy content with Open build up

Rory McIlroy had a brief appearance at the Irish Open
Rory McIlroy had a brief appearance at the Irish Open

Phil Casey

For fans of Rory McIlroy, it was difficult to know what to make of the mixed messages coming from the world number two during his unfortunately brief appearance at the Irish Open.

First came the confession that he was feeling "a little lost" after an opening round of 74 that had him unsure of whether errant drives would be sprayed to the right or left of Carton House's lush fairways.

Then came a second round of 72 in which McIlroy insisted he saw a few positive signs - signs which were somewhat harder to see from outside the ropes - but still resulted in a fourth missed cut of the year.

The 24-year-old conceded his tournament schedule this year had been "light" and that a new Nike driver was still not 100 per cent what he was looking for, yet proceeded to confirm a cousin's wedding and sponsor commitments meant he would not add the French or Scottish Opens to his schedule before Muirfield.

"If I did not have those commitments I probably would, but as long as I play rounds and be competitive myself - play with one ball - it's the same sort of thing," said McIlroy, who did add the Texas Open to his schedule before the Masters and finished second behind Scotland's Martin Laird.

"My schedule has been light, but from the Open onwards I am playing seven events in nine or 10 weeks. I still have a lot of golf to play. Two weeks is a lot of time to try and get something right and hopefully I will be ready for Muirfield."

Add in reports that he was on the verge of splitting up with tennis star girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki and it is hard to imagine McIlroy challenging for a third major title in the Open Championship.

Despite growing up in Northern Ireland, McIlroy is not automatically a proponent of the links courses used on the Open rota - and certainly not of the sort of weather which usually goes hand in hand with the championship.

"I'm not a fan of golf tournaments when the outcome is predicted so much by the weather," McIlroy complained after finishing 25th at a wet and windy Royal St George's in 2011, where compatriot Darren Clarke lifted the Claret Jug.

"It's not my sort of golf. My game is suited for basically every golf course and most conditions, but these conditions I just don't enjoy playing in really. That's the bottom line. I'd rather play when it's 80 degrees and sunny and not much wind."

The chances of McIlroy getting his wish at Muirfield would appear remote, but at least the course is renowned as being the fairest on the rota and McIlroy will do his homework with two visits to the course before Open week arrives.

Whether that is enough preparation remains to be seen and McIlroy's critics will no doubt continue to lay the blame for his poor form at his off-course activities.

Last year he gave US President Barack Obama swing tips during a state banquet at the White House, met the Queen at Newbury races and was invited on court at a packed Madison Square Garden to hit a few shots with Maria Sharapova.

He threw the opening pitch at the Major League Baseball game between the San Francisco Giants and Houston, a traditional honour for the reigning US Open champion before he defends his crown.

Rounds of 74 and 79 in the BMW PGA Championship led McIlroy to confess he may have taken his "eye off the ball," but just a few months later he won his second major title - again by eight shots - in the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island and finished the year with a string of wins and top of the money list on both sides of the Atlantic.

January this year brought the confirmation of the worst-kept secret in golf with McIlroy's multi-million pound switch to Nike, but that was followed by a missed cut in Abu Dhabi, a first-round loss to Shane Lowry in the Accenture Match Play and then walking off the course midway through the second round in his defence of the Honda Classic.

There have been four top-10s but finishes of 25th and 41st in the year's first two majors, the US Open also bringing incidents of club throwing and bending a nine iron out of shape in a final round of 76 at Merion.

It is therefore no wonder that three-time major winner Padraig Harrington believes an "erratic genius" like McIlroy must learn to accept the highs and not worry about the lows in his game for the good of his career.

"If he does that, there will be fewer lows and more highs," Harrington said.

McIlroy fans will be hoping another high is just around the corner.

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