Rude: Rory works while Tiger breezes
DORAL, Fla. Rory McIlroy looked lost. Tiger Woods looked found. So it went for the world’s top two ranked golfers Thursday in a rock-star group completed by former No. 1 Luke Donald, who played the role of perhaps the most talented Invisible Man in entertainment history.
A day after apologizing for quitting in frustration during mid-round last week, McIlroy kept his emotions in check on opening day of the WGC Cadillac Championship. Problem was, his swing remained off and he struggled again, as he did in the brief showings of his first three 2013 starts.
While a sharp Woods shot a nine-birdie 66 for a share of the lead at Trump Doral, McIlroy had a case of the lefts. Once nicknamed BMW because of a reputation as the ultimate driving machine, the 23-year-old Ulsterman hit but three of 14 fairways. He missed the fairway with his last nine drives, eight of them to the left.
If the pins were in the left rough, he’d probably be leading. As it is, the world No. 1 is tied for 50th after a six-bogey 73.
“It was a bit of a struggle, to be honest,” McIlroy said.
In all parts of his game, really. He hit but 11 greens in regulation and took 31 putts, never quite getting the pace down, for most of his putts went at least a couple of feet by.
“As I’ve been saying all week, this is a work-in-progress and I’m working at it and I’m staying patient,” McIlroy said.
When in his prolonged slump, Woods would routinely say he was in the midst of a “process.” These days Little Mac goes with “work in progress.”
At the moment, it looks like more work than progress. At this point perhaps the best tip anyone could give him is, “You are Rory McIlroy — go play golf.” The wisdom-tooth surgery he plans soon won’t hurt as much as his current form.
After all, there’s no novocaine or nitrous oxide to soothe the pain of hacking. And, just guessing, taking either probably would violate the Tour anti-doping policy.
McIlroy did eagle his 10th hole — the short, par-5 No. 1 — after driving near trees in the left rough. But the eagle merely was sandwiched between bogeys at No. 18 and Nos. 2-4. He missed all seven fairways on the front nine, all to the left.
If there was progress, it came in the form of birdies on short putts at two of the final three holes. By his reckoning, the pair of birdies made his score “look somewhat respectable, even though everyone seems to be going pretty low out there.”
He got that right. Forty players in the 65-man field broke par and another nine shot even. In other words, McIlroy didn’t beat many people. But then he didn’t beat himself up mentally, either.
“I wasn’t putting much pressure on myself, and that’s why I didn’t get as frustrated,” he said. “If I had played like that last week, I would have been not so happy. But as I said, I understand that it’s a work in progress and I’m working at it and it will come together pretty soon.”
McIlroy not only has some swing issues, but he is transitioning into a new ball and clubs after signing a multiyear contract with Nike worth a reported $20 million a year. The combination has undermined his golf esteem. He gives the impression he’s perhaps playing, swinging and trying too hard.
“It’s a game of confidence,” Donald said. “Once he gets a little of that back, I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
Woods said he noticed McIlroy isn’t drawing the ball as much as he used to or wants to. He also said McIlroy appeared “maybe just a little bit defensive out there.”
Woods himself knows about bad patches. After his personal life unraveled, he went a remarkable 2 1/2 years without winning. Since then, though, he has won four of his last 17 stroke-play events on the PGA Tour in climbing back to No. 2.
Thursday, he looked like a No. 1. He putted well and hit shot after shot close. On his last 13 holes, he hit 10 approach shots inside of 18 feet, six of them inside 10 feet. And twice when he didn’t, he sank birdie putts of 21 and 39 feet. Woods also made an 18-footer on his second hole of the day.
You know it’s your day when you chunk a chip a few feet, miss putts of 5 and 8 feet and still shoot 66. All told, he hit 13 greens in regulation and took only 23 putts.
His strong performance came a day after he spent about 45 minutes on the practice green with pal Steve Stricker, long one of the game’s best putters.
“Whatever he says, I’m going to do,” Woods said. “He got me into the same posture I was in at Torrey (Pines, where he won the Farmers Insurance Open in January). So I felt comfortable, just like I did at Torrey.”
His short-iron game also was spot on. That’s a case of his swing feeling comfortable now, about 2 1/2 years into a change under Sean Foley.
“I’m able to now hit the shots I want with the trajectories and the shape, and I don’t get any surprises on distances,” Woods said. “All of these things have now solidified.”
McIlroy hopes he can soon say the same.