Rain departs, sun comes out, birdies fly in for Rory McIlroy at Oak Hill
Brilliant finish transforms Ulster man’s round and gets him back on an even keel
Rory McIlroy hits his tee shot on the 10th hole during the second round of the US PGA Championship in Rochester, New York. Photograph: Rob Carr/Getty Images
Was the switch, long-awaited, to ignite his year flicked just as the rain stopped? Did we witness the moment his season transformed?
Time, of course, will tell. But, yesterday, as Rory McIlroy walked to the third tee at Oak Hill Country Club in this 95th US PGA Championship, it seemed for all the world his defence of the Wanamaker Trophy was as good as over. In persistent rain, he’d covered the first 11 holes of his second round in four-over-par. He was drowning.
Started to play
Then, someone turned off the taps, the rain stopped, and McIlroy started to play.
His old, free-flowing swing allied with a gung-ho cockiness returned; and he played his way back into the championship. He was transformed.
It might be unfair to call him a fair-weather golfer, yet it was an indisputable fact that only when the rain stopped did McIlroy produce the necessary shots.
“I was letting the round get away from me somewhat . . . . it was nice to sort of redeem the round a little bit and keep myself in the tournament,” remarked McIlroy after producing four birdies in his closing seven holes to sign for a 71, reaching the midway stage on 140, level par.
What happened? “Basically, the rain stopped!” replied McIlroy, expanding: “After a dropped a couple of shots, I started pushing too hard, which rarely works in those conditions. But once it cleared, I started to hit some quality golf shots.”
One shot more than any was the catalyst for McIlroy’s revival. Having suffered a double-bogey five on the seventh and then three successive bogeys at one point as the rain came down in torrents, those dropped shots coming on the 17th, 18th and first holes, McIlroy hit a three-iron into the third.
The money shot. Something clicked. He got fighting. “That got me going,” he agreed. “At four-over, I knew I had to turn it around quickly and I managed to play myself back into the tournament.”
On the par three third, not long after the rain which had pelted down since he’d started had stopped, and the greenkeeping staff could put away their squeegees, McIlroy hit a three-iron tee-shot in to six feet.
One putt. Birdie! Then, on the fourth, a par five playing 580 yards yesterday, he hit driver and three-wood to within 50 yards of the green and pitched to eight feet. One putt. Birdie!
One putt. Birdie!
On the par four seventh, McIlroy’s approach finished just off the green. Still, he asked caddie JP Fitzgerald for the putter and rolled the ball into the tin cup from 40 feet. One putt. Birdie!
And, then, on the eighth, he hit a wedge approach to three feet. One putt. Birdie!
“I needed to make some birdies to just guarantee myself for the weekend, but (also) try and get myself back in the tournament. I had some nice shots coming in and, more importantly for me, hit some good putts coming in,” said McIlroy, who had made getting to level par his target after suffering his final bogey of the round on the first, his 10th.
“It’s just being more positive, it’s all about the attitude more than anything and not getting too down on myself. It makes me feel good, because maybe in the middle of the season or a couple of months ago I wouldn’t have . . . it’s good to be able to do that and fight back, and makes you feel good about yourself going into the weekend.”
A year ago, after a relatively poor summer, McIlroy turned his season around with a confidence-building display at the WGC-Bridgestone in Akron. The next week, he won the US PGA at Kiawah Island.
It sparked an end-of-season run that brought further wins - two in the US Tour’s FedEx series, in the Deutsch Bank championship and the BMW championship, and another in the European Tour’s season-ending Dubai World championship - and left him perched at the top of the world rankings.
McIlroy hasn’t won since that triumph in Dubai, a period when he has switched from Titleist to Nike clubs and made the move to change management.
Could this round be the one to transform his season, just as Akron did the job a year ago?
“Could be, yeah, it could be,” he responded, with a glint in his eye.