Rainy Doral holds up McIlroy’s progress
Tiger Woods follows the arc of a shot during the first round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral in Doral, Florida. Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
They began the season together in Abu Dhabi in January, bizarrely twirling putters over their heads and shuffling awkwardly alongside a traditional Emirati Al-Ayala dance troupe as they performed an appearance fee-generating pre-tournament jig.
Fast forward a couple of months and Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy are at it again, this time dodging and weaving around the bad weather and the great Blue Monster that has been given a lot more bite thanks to the $250 million fortune Donald Trump is pumping into Doral to restore it to its former glory (with a Trump twist, of course).
The exciting young Australian Jason Day was expected to join the two major winners in a gathering of the world numbers four, five and six. But as Day withdrew on the range, troubled by a left thumb injury that has been bothering him since he won the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson, we were treated to a chance to compare and contrast the styles of two of golf’s most exciting players in a warm southwest wind that gusted to 25 mph and more.
That they only got nine holes in before the weather – heavy rain that accompanied a “tornado watch” forecast – brought play to a halt shortly after lunch said as much about the organisers’ emphasis on the TV market, with all 69 players going out between 11 and one o’clock, as it did about the excruciatingly slow pace of play.
Forced to wait
Stuck behind Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Jordan Spieth, they were forced to wait on every hole on an overcast day, with the air heavy with humidity and the promise of rain that eventually arrived in bucketfuls.
Jason Dufner was leading on five under par through 10 holes, one better than Honda Classic winner Russell Henley (10 holes) and two ahead of Luke Donald (11) and Patrick Reed (6).
It took a while for them to get going but there was plenty of evidence to support the theory of Pádraig Harrington and Paul McGinley that McIlroy will always be more like a Mickelson than a Tiger Woods, with the Ulster man going through the turn in one under to Mickelson’s level par.
Their games could not be more different – Mickelson painting with wild and adventurous brushstrokes to McIlroy’s textbook straight lines. But it is precisely because they both serve up the golfing equivalent of a rollercoaster ride that they drew the biggest gallery of the day outside the trio of Woods, Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson.
Even allowing for the fact Stenson had a stone-cold shank from the middle of the fairway at the second and followed his opening birdie with a double-bogey six, Mickelson and McIlroy made for fascinating viewing.
As Woods, showing no ill effects from the back injury that forced him to retire after 13 holes at the Honda Classic on Sunday, mixed five pars with a bogey four at the 196-yard fourth, McIlroy reeled off four effortless birdies and a bogey in his first six holes before dropping shots at the 17th and 18th.
Having hit a stellar second to the par-five 10th and two putted for birdie, McIlroy drove into the tree right of the 12th but found the front bunker in two and holed a five-footer for another birdie.