'Scrapper' G-Mac gives Rory lesson in true grit
Nice to see one of the English make it beyond two days at Dove Mountain – hot American prospect Harris English!
As he tried to grind down grizzled Ryder Cup veteran Jim Furyk in yesterday's third round, the biggest compliment one could pay English this week is that he pushed Rory McIlroy so hard on Thursday he exposed a long-standing crack in the Ulsterman's facade.
McIlroy blew himself out of the Accenture Match Play with a couple of loose shots on the 19th hole of a thrilling second-round battle with English, a fellow 24-year-old who drives the ball just as far and hits his irons with almost unerring accuracy.
Yet trademark streaky putting on four of five holes from the seventh helped turn the screw on the Northern Irishman.
As the pressure mounted against such a big-hitting opponent, McIlroy tossed the par-five 11th and 13th holes into his opponent's lap.
For sure, McIlroy is once again capable of beguiling fans with spectacular shot-making and has every right to regard his return to the Honda Classic next week as an opportunity to erase memories of last year's shocking meltdown at PGA National.
"I'm very comfortable with my game," said McIlroy before heading for his Florida home.
"I'm not in any way disappointed leaving (Tucson) so early because I feel like my game is there and I'm looking forward to the next couple of weeks."
Yet one can't help wondering how invincible McIlroy would be if he could putt like Graeme McDowell and rivalled the street-fighting tenacity of the Portrush man.
"Graeme's a scrapper and I mean that in the best way," said European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley last night, plainly appreciating how McDowell showed the right stuff by coming back from the dead to beat Gary Woodland and Japanese prospect Hideki Matsuyama on the first two days.
As he became embroiled in yet another war with Hunter Mahan in yesterday's third round, it was staggering to see McDowell once again claw back an early deficit and then keep grinding away at America's hardest match-play slugger with sheer grit and phenomenal putting.
They were all-square through the turn before McDowell lost 11 to a Mahan birdie after hitting his tee shot into the cloying left rough; it probably wouldn't have felt right any other way.
"Why do it the easy way when the hard way will do," McDowell had joked on Thursday night, pointing out: "In the first two days, I've not struck a tee shot whilst ahead in the match."
"Match play fits his nature and his golf game. Graeme's a great competitor and a great putter and that suits match play. He and Ian Poulter have a lot in common in that way," explained McGinley.
The Dubliner is expected to name three of his Ryder Cup assistants at a special reception in Government Buildings in his native city on March 6.
England's David Howell is likely to take a place on the back-room staff along with McGinley's long-time mentor Des Smyth and Sam Torrance, a close friend and Europe's inspirational captain when the Irishman made his Ryder Cup debut at The Belfry in 2002.
ACCENTURE MATCH PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP,
LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 5.0