DUBLIN, Ohio – The knee wasn’t the problem. The driving was. Rory McIlroy missed fairway after fairway Friday. In doing so, he remarkably followed his opening 63 with a 78 and made an agronomical discovery.
“I didn’t realize how thick the rough was until I got into it today,” McIlroy said, smiling, after the Memorial Tournament second round.
It was a bizarre day all around in the McIlroy realm. About two weeks after he broke off his engagement to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, she changed her Twitter avatar to a photo of her dressed as a witch and stirring a brew, an image apparently taken at a Halloween party. Shortly thereafter McIlroy made three consecutive double bogeys and shot 43 on Muirfield Village’s back nine, his first side Friday. He had shot 31 on those same holes Thursday.
Of course, interpreting spiritual influence, or intent for that matter, is risky business. So we’ll leave that conjecture to others more well versed in the ways of the universe. The task of figuring out golf is hard enough. But this much is certain: McIlroy’s 24-hour stretch is the latest example that screams of the game’s unpredictability.
Given his victory Sunday at the BMW PGA Championship and his opening hot streak here, no one saw this coming. He appeared to be on cruise control.
That said, for all his immense talent, McIlroy has been known to go off the rails for a couple of hours here and there. In fact, he has now shot in the 40s for nine holes in four consecutive PGA Tour starts. He had a 42 at The Players and 40s at the Wells Fargo Championship and Masters.
That’s more evidence that golf is a game of streaks, good and bad. And McIlroy knows that more than most because he lives it.
On Thursday afternoon, after he tweaked his left knee hitting a second shot at No. 7, McIlroy played the next 10 holes in 7 under par – even with a double bogey mixed in. That smacked of about the seven millionth version of “Beware the Ailing Golfer.” Almost everything went right. The opposite was the case on his opening nine Friday morning.
“It seemed like anything that could sort of go wrong did go wrong out there,” he said.
That can happen here when your driving is off. In a brief professional career during which he has won two major championships by eight strokes apiece, the 25-year-old has been known as “BMW,” a reference to the company’s “ultimate driving machine” slogan. We saw that kind of play on Day 1, when he hit 10 fairways and 13 greens in regulation.
Friday was just a day apart, but it seemed like planets. He kept hitting tee shots into right rough and, thus, missing greens. He hit but one of seven fairways on his outgoing nine and just four of 14 for the day. Hence, his GIR count dropped to a troublesome eight.
“I missed fairways,” he understated. “That was the big thing.”
With his length, it doesn’t take much of a miss for a ball to find high grass. His did from the start. Beginning on 10, he hit a decent drive and barely found rough, but he couldn’t reach the green. Bogey. Then, after a birdie on the par-3 12th, he entered double-bogey prison for three holes after drives into right rough.
McIlroy hit three trees on 13 and hit three shots out of right rough in making double. His approach at 14 found water short right of the green. He was 33 feet from the hole in two on the 529-yard 15th but made 7, largely because he double-hit a difficult downhill chip and the ball tumbled into a bunker behind him.
There are a couple of ways to view that mess. McIlroy chose to go half full.
“Take those three holes out of it, then it wouldn’t actually have been that bad a day,” he said.
Of course, that could be said of most rounds. But the PGA Tour doesn’t allow mulligans or substitutions. What it does allow is another chance the next day.
As it happens, McIlroy stands at 3-under 141, to which he took the oddest of journeys. That means he’s well off the lead, running uphill into the wind, but …
“It’s not disastrous,” he said. “Even though I had such a bad day, I’m still in with a chance depending on what guys do this afternoon. (So) it could be worse.”
McIlroy’s goal now is to have a decent start Saturday and rebuild momentum. He’s not worried about his swing, for he hit the ball better on an incoming 35. “I don’t think it’s anything to be worried about,” he said.
And he’s not concerned about the strained MCL in his knee, which he has treated with ice and painkillers.
“The knee’s OK,” he said. “It was a little sore on the range because if I keep hitting balls and just keep torquing it, it’s going to get sore. But out on the course it was fine.”
The same couldn’t be said of his tee shots.