McIlroy and Woods grind it out to stay in the mix
Masters champion Adam Scott left gaspingfor air after four successive bogeys
The two endorsers of the Swoosh had a number of common themes, apart from their manufacturer’s branding, as they went about their business yesterday in this 113th US Open.
Their Nike clubs, for one. The strut. The swing. Their status as past US Open champions, for another; a point not lost on Adam Scott who, in spite of being the newest member of golf’s Majors’ club, was pointedly isolated on the tee as the announcer introduced Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in outlining their successes in the championship.
And, for much of a day which started with a morning chill that stubbornly refused to allow the sun’s rays break through until the afternoon, US Masters champion Scott – who wasn’t let in on the orange colour theme exhibited by his playmates – did his utmost to grind it out like the two men immediately ahead of him in the world rankings.
Indeed, all three shared similar travails with an intransigent golf course in their quests to add a Major tally of 17 – 14 to Woods, two to McIlroy and one ot Scott – that, combined, still fell short of Jack Nicklaus’s record 18. If that number is to be increased, then some magic will need to be conjured up over the weekend’s finale, one that promises firmer and faster conditions. As if things weren’t tough enough already.
Yesterday was a day for grinding, and, to their credit, Woods, bothered by a nagging injury to his left wrist caused when extricating a shot from rough on Thursday, and McIlroy especially rolled up their sleeves and got on with the task at hand. Scott, too, battled, only to be cast aside when thrown onto the bogey train on the back nine of his second round.
The three men had returned to complete their business yesterday on a cool, dank day robbed from another season. With jackets zipped up tight, the unfinished work of Thursday, when the gathering gloom brought an end to play, was done. It wasn’t always pretty – as exemplified by Scott’s hooked tee-shot out-of-bounds on the 15th or their play of the Par 3 17th where all incurred bogeys – but, when the time came to sign their first round scorecards, all were content: Scott a 72, McIlroy and Woods with 73s.
Woods didn’t want to dwell on his injured wrist. Asked what caused him to grimace on occasion, he replied: “Pain.” Before adding: “But it is what it is, and you move on.” Still, Woods had required treatment on the injury on Thursday night.
On the fairways
And copying a line or two from his Nike co-star, McIlroy – referring to his ball landing in divots on the fairways – remarked: “It’s fine, it is what it is. And as long as you keep putting the ball in the fairway that’s the main thing.”
The work, though, was only partly done. And, following a quick lunch and some time on the range and putting greens, the call to the 11th tee box – to start the second round – brought with it the renewed need to grind and grind on a course unrelenting in its demands. “I’ve got a few chances early on in the round and I want to try and take advantage of those and get it back to even par as soon as possible,” said McIlroy, before embarking on his second round. He was to be (almost) as true as his word, grabbing birdies on the 11th and 12th getting him off to a flyer. But he couldn’t get back to par.
It was worse, however, for the Titleist man thrown into the midst of the Nike men. Scott – with Woods’s old bagman Steve Williams in his shadow – battled hard until he hit a wall at third, his 11th. After that, it was like someone pushed over a wall of dominoes. By the time he walked off the sixth green, the Aussie had been hit with four successive bogeys and was gasping for air. He eventually signed for a second round 75, four shots worse off that Woods and McIlroy who each claimed 70s to finish on 143, three-over.
McIlroy’s finish typified how the course gave and took away. On the eighth, the Ulsterman hit his approach to two feet to set up the fourth birdie of his round. Within a couple of minutes, he was holding his breath as his tee shot to the ninth dodged the water fronting the green and his ball nestled in rough. He failed to get up and down and, hey presto, he had suffered a fourth bogey of his second round.
No wonder McIlroy would raise his eyes to the heavens, almost in thanksgiving, after following a missed birdie putt on the 10th by sinking a four-footer for his par and a round of 70 that moved him right into the thick of things.
For Woods, a battling 70 – his fighting qualities epitomised by his birdie on the Par 5 fourth where his tee shot hit the middle of the fairway only to bounce into rough and his second shot swung further left into heavier rough before he played an exquisite recovery to 15 feet and sank the putt – put him alongside McIlroy at the 36-holes stage, with the prospect of again being paired together for the third round.