Frustrated Rory McIlroy fails to spark as he loses ground on Irish Open field

After a round of 72, the world number four said: “I felt like I was swimming against the stream”

“Rory, Rory, do you have any clubs?” shouted the young fan as the host sauntered over towards the steel frames which acted as a barrier.

It was a request uttered in hope, but with no hope at all of baring fruit. Even after an opening round of 72 that saw Rory McIlroy lose a considerable amount of ground on the field, there was no jettisoning of any clubs. Not even his putter, the one club in his bag that has proven troublesome.

As McIlroy admitted after a frustrating round, spent walking in the shadows of Spain’s Jon Rahm and Japanese player Hideki Matusyuma, this was one of those days when the spark never ignited in spite of the will-power generated from those spectators crammed behind the ropes from first tee until last who waited in vain for a light switch moment.

“I felt like I was swimming against the stream,” confessed McIlroy, the tournament host and defending champion, after an afternoon on a links that stubbornly refused to offer him any good karma for his charitable contributions, including that any prize money won would bolster the funds of deserving causes.


No, this was a battle to stay afloat, to avoid disasters and to get home safely. This, he did; to survive to fight another day.

“Selflessly, it’s good to see (Jon and Hikdeki) up there; selfishly, I want to be alongside them. I’ve got my work cut out to do that. I felt like I hit the ball pretty well, gave myself plenty of chances and I actually hit good putts, hit them where I was wanting to hit them. I’m using a line on the ball, so the feedback is there. I was just a little bit off line, a little bit of pace, and that was really it.”

He elaborated: “When the line was right, the pace wasn’t quite right. And when the pace was right, the line was a little bit off. It was just one of those days it didn’t quite match it up.”

So, time to chase a score? “I’m not chasing any number. I just want to go out there and play good golf and, if I hit fairways, hit greens, keep giving myself chances and take a few of them, then I’d say by the end of the (second round), somewhere close to 12-under will probably be leading the tournament and I need to shoot something around that score you’d be saying, but it’s not a goal of mine. I just need to go out, play well and I know if I do that, it adds up to something like that.”

McIlroy managed just two birdies in his round, both of them bounce backs: after bogeying the par three third hole, which claimed its fair share of victims, he responded with a birdie on the par five fourth; and when he bogeyed the next Par 3, the sixth, he hit back with a birdie on the par five seventh. But that was the end of the roller-coaster, and he flat-lined the rest of the way home with 11 straight pars.

Alongside him, Rahm and Matsuyama yielded their putters like magic wands. Rahm especially. But there would be no transfer of energy from the two younger men to their host. McIlroy’s putter stayed cool.

“I just couldn’t get anything going, couldn’t get any momentum,” said McIlroy.

On the first tee, Rahm had told McIlroy that it was the “most beautiful” opening tee shot anywhere. As they went around, it was the Spaniard who was inspired. “You can tell Rory’s really proud of what he’s doing. He wishes he made a couple more putts, I think we all do. But I fed off the atmosphere. The people were great. I was in such a happy mood all the time that I was hoping for a good score and it came out,” said Rahm.

McIlroy’s turn next?

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times