McIlroy about to hand world number one spot back to Spieth
Unusually small crowd follows the four-time Major winner during third round in Boston
Rory McIlroy has struggled to make a move at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston. Photograph: Getty
It was like watching the tennis superstar Roger Federer practice hours before a night match at the United States Open, only every stroke that Rory McIlroy, a friend of Federer’s, took on Sunday morning counted. Several dozen fans made it to the first hole at TPC Boston in time to watch McIlroy, the world No. 1 for at least another 24 hours, begin his third round at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Because of the early hour, the television cameras in the towers on the first few holes were still out cold under their coverlets. On the first four holes, the only photographs taken of McIlroy were by fans outside the ropes.
The gallery following McIlroy and his playing competitor, Brendon Todd, quickly grew to a couple of hundred spectators. In general, they were so quiet that they might as well have had their heads bowed in prayer. Other than a 9-foot birdie putt on the third hole, McIlroy was not doing much to rouse his flock. From tee to green, he was solid, but he could not decipher the speed of the greens. In three days, McIlroy has had five three-putts, including one from 47 feet on the eighth hole Sunday on his way to an even-par 71.
“I’ve just been trying to get something going, and there’s nothing happening,” he said, adding, “Just haven’t really made anything.”
On one hole, a fan waiting for McIlroy to catch up to his drive in the fairway remarked to her companion, “There’s usually more noise.”
And typically, more people. A broken necklace of bodies ringed each hole, leading one marshal to remark, “This is a good time to come out and see Rory.”
It has been a bad summer to see McIlroy, who has had only a few more competitive outings since August than his friend Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback. McIlroy’s round Sunday was his seventh since June 21, a span of 77 days. Jason Day, who can become the third player in three weeks to hold the top ranking with a victory in this second-round FedEx Cup playoffs event, has played 23 competitive rounds in that span, with three victories.
Sweden’s Henrik Stenson carded a 65 to take the 54-hole lead at 13 under. His score equaled the second-lowest round of the day behind Hunter Mahan’s 64. Rickie Fowler, who posted a 67, is one stroke behind Stenson. Sean O’Hair and Matt Jones, who shot 67 and 68, are two back.
Stenson, who won this event two years ago, has three runner-up finishes in 2015, including one last week at the Barclays. His best finish in the majors this year was a tie for 19th at the Masters. Fowler secured his second PGA Tour title at the Players Championship in May, but his best finish in the majors in 2015 was a tie for 12th at the Masters.
Both view these playoffs as opportunities to atone for disappointing performances on the game’s four biggest stages.
“I would have liked to play well at those ones and I didn’t, so I guess I’m a little bit hungry to play well now,” Stenson said.
Fowler is also motivated to join his contemporaries McIlroy, Spieth and Day in the conversation about the world No. 1.
“At Akron, I tied for 10th, I moved back two spots in the world rankings,” he said. “It’s tough. You’ve got to be on top of your game. There’s a lot of guys playing well.”
McIlroy took the No. 1 ranking from Spieth while at the movies, after he bypassed the first playoff event and Spieth missed the cut. Unless McIlroy, who is at two over, can leapfrog 54 players in Monday’s final round to squeeze into the top 10, he will pass the crown back to Spieth, who again missed the cut.
Day, the FedEx Cup playoffs points leader, had the leaden gait of a fading pacesetter in his round of 73, which halted his streak of scores of par or better at 22. He is four under for the tournament. Spieth spoke Saturday of needing to regain the cockiness in his step. Day, who had one double bogey on the front and three bogeys on the back to go with three birdies, looked as if he were trying to fake his swagger until he felt it.
“I just wish I had a little bit more energy,” said Day, who described his schedule since the United States Open as “just kind of nonstop.”
Nobody has a more confident stride than McIlroy when he is feeling good. His friend and fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell has described McIlroy’s walk as his “trademark strut.”
His step had a little less bounce to it Sunday, but McIlroy’s rolling gait still made him easy to identify from 100 yards away.
“I walk how I’m feeling,” said McIlroy, adding, “If I had been playing a lot more, I’d probably be more annoyed.”
Because it is only his second tournament in the past 10 weeks, McIlroy sees no reason to mope.
“I’m just worried about getting my game in better shape,” he said, “so that I can compete and try and win golf tournaments.”
(New York Times service)