After all the great fanfare, McIlroy fluffs his lines on opening day
See, this is the problem when you stand up in front of the world and tell it that this new thing you’ve got is going to make all that talk about sliced bread seem like a lot of fuss about nothing. After a while, just describing the taste isn’t going to be enough.
People are going to want to see you chew it, chomp it and swallow it down. And any little wince will be taken down and used in evidence.
Rory McIlroy will obviously win tournaments with his new Nike clubs. It’s just unlikely that he will win this one.
He finished his morning’s work here yesterday with a 75 against his name, eight shots off the five-under-par lead that would be held by day’s end by Justin Rose and Jamie Donaldson.
He was out of sorts all through his round, posting as many double bogeys as he did birdies. Maybe he’d have laboured under the same early-season blues if he’d still been playing with his old clubs but he wasn’t. So it was hardly a surprise when most of the questions he faced afterwards were about his new toys.
“Of course they need fine-tuning,” he said, “but I’ve been working on it leading up to Christmas and then obviously into the new year. It’s a little bit of an experimental period and I have four weeks off after this tournament just to work on it. There was a bit of rust there for sure. I haven’t played any competitive golf for eight weeks.
“I guess when you’re going out with new stuff, you’re always going to be a little bit anxious to see if you’re going to be able to hit it like you did on the range and today wasn’t quite the case. It’s a little different because when you’re on the range you can just whale away and everything’s fine. I definitely learned a couple of things on the course there.
“It’s going to be a learning process. I’ve got here and then I have four weeks off. My main concern now is doing some work on the range and getting ready to try and make the weekend.”
Reality’s a bitch sometimes. As you can well imagine, there was limited chat about learning processes and suchlike on Monday night when Nike had him emerging from the water and into the light as the face to bring them into the 2020s. Nor was there any mention of being anxious to see if he was going to be able to hit it like he had on the range.
Nope, what there was was McIlroy saying things like: “The VRS Covert driver. It’s a little different, which I liked from the start. It has the cavity back which is a new design in the world of golf.
“As soon as I hit it I knew it was going into the bag straight away. My ball speed was up, my numbers were good, spin rate, everything. And you know, I was hitting it further. I thought I hit it far before but this is totally taking it to a new level. So that’s great.”
And there’s no doubt that it will be. It just wasn’t yesterday.
McIlroy only hit five fairways all morning, admitting that he couldn’t trust enough in his new driver to release it fully given the stiff breeze they were playing in. He lost a drive out of bounds to the left on the third hole – his 12th – that cannoned off a tree and into a car-park, causing him to have to go back to the tee.
That brought one of the two double bogeys on his card, the other coming at the short 15th where he sprayed his only really poor iron shot of the day 40 yards to the right of the green.
This, too, shall pass, of course. McIlroy said afterwards that his poor score had as much to do with the rust brought on by eight weeks away from competition as any lack of comfort with his new clubs. No fair mind would argue with him there and anyone who did could reasonably be pointed towards the name of Thorbjorn Olesen at the upper reaches of the leaderboard.
Olesen is the 23-year-old Dane who has also just signed signed up with Nike, albeit to an understandably tiny fraction of the fanfare that accompanied McIlroy.
He had his first official dance with his new clubs last week in South Africa and, without anyone making an issue of it, he also shot a 75 in his first round. It didn’t get a lot better as the week went on – he finished with only two behind him, never hitting more than half his fairways in any round.
Yesterday, Olesen hit eight out of 14 fairways, found 13 greens in regulation and putted like he was aiming at a manhole. He signed for a 68 and starts the second round a shot off the lead.
It’ll get better for McIlroy too. Nike will hope it does sooner rather than later.