Competition key for Rory McIlroy after US Open missed cut
World number two won’t play the weekend for second consecutive year at the US Open
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his shot from the 12th tee during the second round of the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
If the temptation might have been for Rory McIlroy to slink away, possibly using the high fescues as cover to execute his escape, the reality was something different as the world number two stood his ground after a missed cut here at the 117th US Open ended his title aspirations before they ever truly got going.
In what has been a disrupted season, mainly due to an initial rib stress fracture which then returned to further disturb him, and also the matter of his wedding which necessitated a different type of break away from the sport, McIlroy’s latest speed bump came on the rolling, glacial terrain of the Wisconsin landscape.
Although McIlroy magically conjured up four birdies in his closing six holes, it wasn’t sufficient to save his bacon. “It didn’t matter at that point because I was so far from the cut line. But at least I know it’s in there, it’s just a matter of getting it out of me and getting myself in the right frame of mind,” he said.
A second round 71 to add to his opening 78 gave him a midway total of five-over 149, which left him with only the prospect of practice rather than further competitive rounds to ponder for the weekend.
“I’m optimistic with where my game is, where some of game is. Hopefully I’ve got a lot of the bad stuff out of my system (on Thursday) and some parts (Friday). And again, it’s just a matter of getting competitive rounds under my belt,” said McIlroy.
He added: “I think just in practice I was really, really good, and I just wasn’t able to translate that on to the golf course. You play 54 holes around here before the golf tournament, I felt really, really comfortable. I drove the ball well, my irons were good. Everything was in good shape. But you never really know until you put a card in your hand and you’re under the gun little bit. And some of the weaknesses and flaws that are in my game at the minute showed up over the last couple of days. It’s good to see those and see what needs to be worked on.” Going forward, starting with next week’s PGA Tour stop at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut, and then at next month’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart – where he is both host and defending champion – McIlroy badly needs to reignite his season.
That was the plan here but it didn’t happen. Not by a long shot.
Unlike Thursday’s opening round when his driver behaved like a spoilt brat, disobeying his every order and resulting in him finding just five of 14 fairways which had him rock-bottom of the driving statistics, McIlroy’s driving improved but it was the turn of his putter to be vengeful.
Nowhere was this more evident than on the par five first hole, McIlroy’s 10th of his second round, where the Northern Irishman elected to putt from just off the front of the green but would have that Spider Red – in his bag for the first time – in his hands for four successive putts: one putt onto the actually green; then, from eight feet; then, five feet; and, finally, from two feet – into the hole. A long time with the same club in your hands.
In effect, that summed up McIlroy’s plight. He’d also failed to birdie the Par 5 18th, his ninth of the day, a hole playing statistically the easiest on the course. So, when McIlroy’s approach from the middle of the second fairway was airmailed over the green, it was almost understandable that he should take out his frustration in some way. He did. He slammed his club into the turf.
That public display of utter frustration gave an insight into McIlroy’s mindset. Yet, with the cause all but lost, he turned in a performance over his final six holes that matched anyone, almost holing out for an ace on the ninth, his closing hole, where a tap-in birdie brought a rueful exchange of what might have been with his caddie JP Fitzgerald.
“I showed up for the last six holes anyway,” quipped McIlroy, adding: “I’ve been very light on competitive rounds this year, and it’s just a matter of getting into a good round of golf now. I saw some positives there on the back nine coming in, and hopefully I can take them to the Travelers next week. And as I said, just excited to get on a run of golf and get going . . . even though it’s very disappointing to not be here on the weekend, but I think these last two rounds will serve me well going into the summer.”
McIlroy’s disrupted season had seen him play just six tournaments this year prior to teeing up here at Erin Hills. His pre-championship optimism wasn’t matched by his performance once the race got under way, and the importance of a busier schedule – even if his practice regime remains limited – has not been lost on him.
In fact, McIlroy will play four of the next five weeks – the Travelers on the PGA Tour next week, then a run of Irish Open-Scottish Open- British Open when he returns to Europe in two weeks time – as he bids to ignite his season.
“I’ve got a nice run leading up to the Open Championship. I’ve got a busy summer, so I’m excited to play a lot of golf. I feel like that’s going to help me to get back into contention and hopefully try to win some of these things,” said McIlroy, who has four career Major titles, the last of which came with his victory in the 2014 US PGA.