RABAT, Morocco – The Road to Morocco might have been a slapstick 1942 comedy starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, but Paul McGinley’s route to the North African nation has been pretty humorless.
When McGinley teed off at 10:39 a.m. local time Thursday, it ended 139 agonizing days of wondering if he still had what it took to compete again on the European Tour.
He’s still wondering.
The 43-year-old Irishman underwent the sixth operation on his left knee at the end of last season and spent the winter in rehab.
“It’s nice to be back, but it’s been a long haul,” McGinley said. “The knee is disintegrating, it’s getting weaker structurally and I’ve got to be aware of that – I’ve got to work around it.”
McGinley’s preparation for this event consisted of just two rounds of golf around Sunningdale Golf Club at the end of last week.
He limited himself to six and 12 holes at a time in practice here, six on the Red Course and 12 holes on the Blue. He spent less time practicing than normal.
The Dubliner started his round with a birdie. But a bogey-double bogey finish to his front nine for a 3-over-par 39 killed any hopes of a quick comeback. Level par on the back nine meant a 75, and much work to do to make the cut.
“I didn’t expect to be at the cutting edge because the competitive edge is just not there and that makes you apprehensive,” McGinley said.
With the exception of pushing his tee shot into a pond to the right of the par-3 ninth hole, McGinley actually struck the ball well. However, he suffered on the greens.
“There wasn’t a lot of feel in my stroke and that’s what you lose by not playing,” he said. “I’m not that disappointed because I didn’t have high expectations. You can’t just come out to this level and expect to compete.
“Just making the cut would be an achievement.”
The Irishman carved out a very successful European Tour career through sheer, hard graft. He’s the Tour’s ultimate overachiever. However, he has had to reappraise his outlook as a result of his tribulations.
“I’m a hard-worker,” McGinley said. “I love to get onto that range, and I can’t wait to hit golf balls and to get out on the golf course. But I’ve got to hold myself back.
“I’ve got to be very disciplined this time because as I get older, it becomes a lot more difficult to come back.
“I’ll never again be able to practice with the intensity I used to. I’ve got to rejig my whole approach if I am to have longevity in the game, which I want to have.
“I’m going to have to change my approach to my playing schedule, practice, everything. You won’t see me playing four, five or six tournaments in a row anymore.”
The Dubliner is a four-time European Tour winner. He is a three-time Ryder Cup winner. In fact, the highlight of his career came during his debut in 2002, when he holed the winning putt at The Belfry. McGinley made a crucial up-and-down par from beside the 18th green, holing a slippery nine-foot putt for a half with Jim Furyk to take Europe to 14 1/2 points and victory.
Normally the Irishman would be chomping at the bit to make this year’s team at Celtic Manor, Wales. He has bigger concerns.
“The Ryder Cup? That’s so far away. I’m miles behind. I’m running my own race. I’m not running against anyone else at this stage,” he said.
“The ambition is to stay healthy, to have my knee stronger next week in Malaga (for the Open de Andalucia de Golf) than it is this week and to have longevity in my career. They’re my two goals.”