Wednesday 21 August 2019

Vincent Hogan: 'Just after 10.25am on Thursday morning - and one hole in - Rory McIlroy's Open was already in ruins'

Golf - The 148th Open Championship - Royal Portrush Golf Club, Portrush, Northern Ireland - July 18, 2019 Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy looks dejected during the first round REUTERS/Paul Childs
Golf - The 148th Open Championship - Royal Portrush Golf Club, Portrush, Northern Ireland - July 18, 2019 Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy looks dejected during the first round REUTERS/Paul Childs
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

It was a shot seen around the world, an ugly, hooked iron from Rory McIlroy that essentially flew out of the golf course, instantly ruining his hopes of winning a fifth major.

The sight of The Open favourite turning to his bag for another ball drew disbelieving groans from the huge crowd assembled around Royal Portrush's opening hole. Just after 10.25am on a breezy morning on the famed Dunluce links, McIlroy would walk off that first green, a ruinous quadruple bogey on his card.

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McIlroy's eventual 79 means he will struggle to make the weekend, let alone contend for a prize he won at Royal Liverpool five years ago.

In other words, his failure to add to a tally of four majors secured by the age of 25 will now stretch into a sixth year, many now wondering if the white heat of these championships has begun asking questions of McIlroy he has lost the capacity to answer.

He did not contend at this year's Masters, US Open or USPGA tournaments either, despite his consistency in lesser events - he won the Players' Championship and Canadian Opens - in which scrutiny of the world's top players is less unforgiving.

Asked if there was "any way back" afterwards, he replied "To the cut-mark?" before adding "Definitely a way back to Florida".

Having spoken earlier in the season of how The Open, returning to Northern Ireland for the first time in 68 years, would be his number one priority in 2019, he had chosen in recent weeks to distance himself from soaring expectation, insisting that he would approach the event as just a normal tournament.

That, palpably, did not work for McIlroy, who has spoken at length about his use of meditation to deal with the stresses unavoidable for the best players in the world.

Yet, asked if that shocking opening shot proved devastating psychologically, he replied rather oddly, "It almost settled me down. It's almost like 'Well that's sort of the worst that can happen, so just put your head down and keep going.'

"At that point, what else can go wrong?"

A bogey on three as it happens before settling into a more competent stretch of golf that drew birdies on seven and nine, before a three putt from six feet on the so-called 'Calamity' par-three sixteenth he considered "inexcusable", was followed by more ugliness on eighteen where a rotten tee-shot set him up for a closing triple bogey.

Despite his score leaving him twelve shots behind fellow Irishman and first round leader, Shane Lowry, McIlroy was resolutely sanguine about the chaos of his day.

"I guess when you play your first and last holes in a combined seven over par, you're kind of starting on the back foot" he sighed.  "Obviously I got off to a rough start, the ball just started going left on the wind.  I actually hit the ball out of bounds on the right yesterday in the practice round.

"So that might have been in my head a little bit.

"But I felt I showed some good resilience after that. I think I played the next thirteen or fourteen holes in two under par.  What I'm really disappointed with is I undid all that great work in the last three holes.  I lost concentration after the missed par putt on sixteen and missed a short one there.

"That was inexcusable. Tee-shots like the first happen. You can get one riding on the wind too much. But lapses of concentration like that, I feel like I've done a really good job over the last few years of being more with it.

"On eighteen then, I hit a tee-shot that I knew wasn't going to be on the fairway, but I didn't think it was going to be as bad as it was."

Asked if the weight of expectation had maybe taken a cruel toll, he replied "I don't think so. Look I was nervous on the first tee. Not nervous because of that, nervous because it's an Open Championship. You know I usually get nervous on the first tee anyway, regardless of where it is.

"Maybe a little more so today than other places. But I don't think it was that. It was a bit of a tentative golf swing, a hard wind off the right and the ball just got going left on me."

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