A birdie on the 18th has allowed McIlroy to survive the cut
Credit: Oisin Keniry
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As Rory McIlroy sank to his knees on the seventh fairway after hitting into a greenside bunker he didn’t look like the ‘luckiest guy in the world,’ as he was later to describe himself after another ever-fluctuating par round, more as if he were a football manager on the touchline letting off steam at errant charges. We all search for answers to the enigma of McIlroy’s seven year blank streak, as if the demons within must be burning the soles of his feet, but they are not. There are a couple of technical issues he’s addressing – "keeping the club face stable as it’s gone a bit flippy" or hitting with the body, not with the arms and hands – but essentially his karma is good, he is at one with the world.
When it was put to him that he might be trying too hard, he gave the inquiry the sort of resounding knockback as if it had been struck with his driver, saying "I have four Majors and a wonderful family". Just as important is the fact that he has perspective, a gift more precious than all the millions he has accrued, although a few pennies does help. McIlroy admitted that he was "a bit nervous standing on the 18th tee after back-to-back bogeys but he avoided the cut with a final hole birdie (for the second day running) and plays on into the weekend, something he didn’t manage to do on the home turf of Portrush two years ago. You won’t find a dissenter as to the legitimacy of his presence at Sandwich. As he put it: ‘My life is perfect…I want for nothing’.
As he moved through the throng that followed him after missing an absolute tiddler on the 16th, there was nothing but encouragement from the gallery. No cat-calls, no mocking tones, no taunts of how useless he might be. To think it was only a few days ago at Wembley that a different scenario unfolded when a few footballers duffed their shots the way McIlroy did at several junctures, notably with successive bogeys at the start. But the band played on as roars of appreciation cascaded round Royal St George’s. Form is temporary, class is permanent.
McIlroy was obliged to back off shots on two or three occasions due to noise from the sidelines, normally the bane of a golfer’s life. Not for our Rory.
“It is definitely the better alternative to have (people) there than not,” said McIlroy. “There were camera and phone clicks but I’d rather have that than no-one there.”
Rory McIlroy was given warm encouragement as he left the 16th, despite at that point looking in danger of missing the cut
Credit: ANDY BUCHANAN
There were a couple of police officers in attendance nearby as he teed off in mid-morning, a precautionary ploy after McIlroy had his club filched by an interloper recently at the Scottish Open. There was no such excuse to resort to as explanation for his horrible start, such a let-down for the five-deep crowds and also for the man himself who had felt confident overnight after his birdie finish.
McIlroy is at one with the peaks and troughs of this ‘quirky’ links course for that is where his golf is, an undulating experience, a brow-creasing, spirit-churning adventure ride. Up on the hillocks following every moment of soaring hope or plummeting deflation was his father, Gerry, who kept an even face throughout, as masterful a performance as any out on the course.
Like Longfellow’s little girl, when McIlroy is good, he is very good. But not often enough as he himself was to acknowledge. He continues to work with Pete Cowen on his game but there is no Holy Grail out there, no switch that will flick on and illuminate the seeming darkness. Far from it. McIlroy has faith in himself and his equanimity makes for a reliable witness.
Who could gainsay his shot into the fourth that teed up his first birdie of the day or the studied up-and-over approach to the ninth that enabled him to putt for a heartening birdie to even things up at the turn? His fabulous wedge at the 11th opened up the possibility of an eagle but it was not to be.
There was apprehension in the Kent air as MclIroy moved to the 18th, a sense that he might battle to beat the cut. Even the punters in the hospitality suites put their glugging and feasting on hold to watch the mid-afternoon drama. Rory held firm with a lovely second into the heart of the green, holing the putt for birdie.
Triumph and disaster, he is proving just the man to deal with those imposters. At some point, the golf work itself out.