Rory McIlroy digs deep at Bethpage to change his weekend plans
Four birdies in five holes on his back nine makes up for nightmare 40 on his front
Rory McIlroy drives on the 18th hole during the second round of the 2019 US Championship at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
It was almost as if Rory McIlroy caught himself on in midstream. Like a conductor who, to his horror, discovered the orchestra playing grunge music, only to wave his baton to transform the sound into a majestic symphony, the golfer’s clubs magically changed the direction of his second round of this 101st US PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.
A horrid start – double-bogey/bogey/double-bogey – seemed to scupper McIlroy’s grand design on any pretensions towards a third career Wanamaker Trophy; yet, to his credit, the 30-year-old Northern Irishman escaped the downward spiral to produce a spirited fightback that eventually saw him sign for the unlikeliest of 71s, for a 36-holes total of 143, three over par.
McIlroy’s start was the stuff of nightmares. There had been no sign of any glitches in his swing on the range. But, starting on the 10th, his pre-round work had been completed for almost half-an-hour by the time he got to hit his first tee shot on the course. It went right, finished in high fescues, and the clinging grass wrapped around the shaft of his 7-iron as he got too ambitious with the recovery shot. The ball shot left, into more fescue, and he would run up a double-bogey six.
What followed was a misery streak where he could not do right from wrong. A bogey on the 11th was compounded by another double-bogey on the 12th. In a short space of time, McIlroy had spiralled down the leaderboard to be on the seven over mark. “I tried over every shot and didn’t let my head get down and I grinded.”
The contrast between McIlroy’s two halves, covering his front nine in 40 shots and coming home in 31, was stark. Black and white. Jekyll and Hyde. When he completed that front nine, having started on the 10th and reached his midpoint on the 18th, he was in tied-123rd in the championship and seemingly cast adrift from where he wanted to be.
As he walked off the 18th, McIlroy turned to his caddie Harry Diamond. “Let’s make 72 the worst score we’re going to shoot. And it was nice to go one better than that and shoot one-over in the end.”
McIlroy recalled past experiences to get him through, remembering how he’d endured a similar start to a round in the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston a number of years ago. He went on to win that tournament. “It’s not as if I haven’t been in those positions before, it’s just a matter of not pressing too much and staying patient and letting the good golf sort of come through. It took a while today, but it eventually got there.
“I was just glad to see one go in the hole,” remarked McIlroy of the 12-footer for birdie which kick-started his recovery from oblivion. That birdie came on the fourth, his 13th of the round, and was the catalyst for a stirring run for home that brought a hat-trick from the fourth to the sixth and another on the par-3 eighth to ensure his survival into the weekend.
McIlroy hasn’t missed a cut all season and, of all places, he didn’t want to start here. “It was an example of me trying hard and having some character and wanting to be here for the weekend,” he said of his recovery, a bogey-free homeward run that yielded four birdies in his closing six holes. Where he had taken 35 putts in Thursday’s opening round, he took 28 in the second round.
What had kept him going? “Pride. Just pride,” he responded, adding: “ I don’t like missing cuts. It’s not something that I’m used to fortunately, and I wanted to be around for the weekend. And at least if you’re around for the weekend, you can go out there and maybe shoot a good one tomorrow and at least give yourself half a chance.”
For Pádraig Harrington, there was no such reprieve. His horror story remained a horror story, as the Dubliner shot a second round 77 for 12-over-par 152.
“I would give myself a Z for preparation. I done everything I could do wrong to get ready for this, even though you think you would know better at 47 years of age,” said Harrington.
“But my preparation was very, very poor and it got shown up. The only good thing from that is that sometimes you need a little lesson to get motivated and do the right thing. I didn’t do the right things coming into this and that is the way it is. At least at my stage of my career I know what they are and it is up to me to do it,” said Harrington.
Harrington has been playing catch-up this season after missing a number of months over the winter due to a broken bone in his wrist.
“It’s like it is January. My own game was well and truly mixed up this week. It doesn’t catch up on you at a normal event but when you go to a big championship like this and you are trying that much harder it does catch up on you,” he said of failing to meet the demands asked by the course.