McIlroy looks to shed 2nd-round troubles at Open
PINEHURST, N.C. –– Rory McIlroy was talking about a scheduled dinner last Tuesday night at Jack Nicklaus’ home and said, “Yeah, I blew him off, actually, to be honest.”
Yes, McIlroy no-showed. No dinner for Little Mac at Big Jack’s.
But there were extenuating circumstances, and McIlroy recovered nicely. He was practicing at Pinehurst No. 2 last Monday and Tuesday for this week’s U.S. Open and was late getting back to South Florida for the dinner. So instead, they met at Nicklaus’ office for two hours on Wednesday.
In case you’re wondering how a former No. 1 in the world arranges such a meeting with the owner of a record 18 major championship victories, let McIlroy explain. “I don’t ring him up,” he said. “I ring his secretary up and say, ‘I’d like to schedule a meeting please.’ ”
In case you’re wondering what pearls of wisdom Nicklaus dispensed over 120 minutes, McIlroy says plenty.
PHOTOS: 2014 U.S. Open (Wednesday)
Here are some images from Wednesday's practice round for the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, N.C.
“(We) had a great conversation about everything–business, golf, brand, the whole lot,” he said. “I got a lot from that.”
He also got a question from Nicklaus. Namely, “How in the hell can you shoot 63 and then 78?”
Nicklaus was referring to a part of McIlroy’s interesting recent past. In the last month, the Ulsterman broke off his engagement with tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, won Europe’s BMW PGA Championship and then opened 63-78 before tying for 15th at Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament.
And so McIlroy said to the great man, “I wasn’t meaning to, Jack. I’m trying not to.”
Nicklaus then said he wasn’t afraid of making swing changes in mid-round if needed.
“Some of the things he said to me, I’m really thinking about going into this week,” McIlroy said. “He was a great U.S. Open player (four victories) and hopefully some of those little nuggets of wisdom that he passed on to me might help this week.”
Not that the 25-year-old McIlroy needs much. Winner of two majors by eight strokes apiece, he ranks sixth in the world and has finished 27th or better in each of his last 17 starts worldwide dating to late last year. That stretch features a dozen top 10s, including a pair of victories.
No wonder then he says, “I’m just really enjoying my golf at the minute. ... My game is in good shape. I’ve got a nice bit of confidence coming in here. ... My game is good enough to be able to contend in all of them (remaining three majors). With the way I’m playing and how I feel my game is, I’m one of the favorites coming in.”
McIlroy, of course, has the complete game to win at tricky Pinehurst No. 2. He’s long, hits high and soft-landing shots, has a good short game and is imaginative.
But he will have to get over a couple of hurdles.
“I haven’t won a tournament whenever it’s been like this,” McIlroy said, referring to a difficult, firm and fast Open setup where par might win. “That’s why I’m relishing the challenge. It’s conditions I haven’t won in before and I’d love to be able to prove to myself and other people that I can win in different conditions.”
He’ll also have to prove that he can excel on a Friday and keep high numbers off his card.
Believe it or not, McIlroy has shot in the 40s for nine holes in four consecutive PGA Tour starts. Each time he has done so it has been in the second round on a Friday. He had a 43 at the Memorial, 42 at the Players Championship, and 40s at the Wells Fargo Championship and Masters.
T.G.I.F.? Not for McIlroy.
It’s so crazy that he leads the Tour in first-round scoring with a 67.63 average, but ranks No. 192 in Round 2 at 73.5.
“It’s strange,” he understated. “It’s like so strange. It just happened to be Fridays. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve got off to such good starts in tournaments where I may be thinking too much about my score and ... might be pushing too much to keep it going.”
Pushing it at Pinehurst probably won’t work. Patience works here, for balls can take bizarre bounces around the greens.
“It’s going to be a real mental test this week,” he said.
As if golf isn’t all the time.