Rude: Tiger vs. Rory isn't on tap at this rate
As for the two men at the top of the golf atlas, the two prodigies, the game’s only two separation players, the pair that golf fans want to force-feed into a rivalry, well, they are headed in markedly different directions heading toward our National Open.
One is tracking nicely toward Merion; the other is playing like someone named Marion. OK, almost.
World No. 1 Tiger Woods has won four of his six starts in 2013 PGA Tour stroke-play tournaments this year. Winless No. 2 Rory McIlroy hasn’t scored better than 2-over 74 in his last three rounds.
Substandard putting aside in the Memorial Tournament's opening round, Woods controlled his ball nicely in a 71, finding 11 of 14 fairways and 13 greens in regulation. McIlroy, on the other hand, shot 6-over 78, his highest Tour first round, and beat only six players in the 120-man field.
Of all the things that happened Thursday at Muirfield Village – Charl Schwartzel’s leading 65, Woods losing to 53-year-old playing competitor Fred Couples (70) and barely beating 14-year-old Tianlang Guan – McIlroy’s continued funk was perhaps the most compelling.
A newly minted 24, McIlroy has been a shell of his usual self since finishing in the top 10 at the Wells Fargo and Players tournaments to start the month. He shot 74-75—149 in nasty conditions and missed the cut last week at the BMW PGA Championship in England. He then came here and made a mess of Jack Nicklaus’ track with six bogeys and a double bogey.
"I’m pretty frustrated,” the Northern Irishman said. “I’m trying not to let it get to me. It is what it is. A few bad rounds of golf isn’t going to ruin anything. But I’d definitely like to start playing. . . . I’m working hard, and I’m trying to figure things out and hopefully they’ll come around soon.”
The culprit, as it has been lately, was putting. McIlroy missed seven putts from inside 11 feet, including from 3 and 4 1/2. Remarkably, he four-putted one green and three-putted another in taking 33 putts. That was reminiscent of the Wells Fargo third round, when he missed seven putts inside 5 1/2 feet on his 24th birthday.
“I’m still sort of struggling on the greens a bit,” understated McIlroy, who ranks 100th on Tour in putting (strokes gained), 126th in three-putt avoidance and 158th from 15-20 feet. “I’ve missed a lot of short putts. It’s probably a lack of confidence more than anything else.”
When he missed with his full swing, his ball again tended to sail right in a costly manner, as it did when finding water at the third hole. Little wonder then that he walked off with more questions than answers after coming here thinking his game was OK.
“I don’t really have many explanations for this,” said the man who has won two major championships by eight strokes, including the 2011 Open at Congressional.
McIlroy is in the midst of splitting from his management team and forming his own agency. One can surmise that has been weighing on him, has clogged his mind some. But he says no.
“Once I’m here I’m focused on what I need to do,” McIlroy said. “Right at the moment it’s not happening for me.”
Woods, meanwhile, is trying to bag a fifth victory before the U.S. Open for the first time in his career. He’s tied for 27th, six shots behind, after making five birdies and four bogeys.
“I just didn’t make anything today,” Woods said.
He was talking about his putting. McIlroy would love to have Woods’ putting problems. Woods leads the Tour in strokes gained-putting, total putting and putting from 5-10 feet.
So, considering the big picture, Woods has no putting issues. Golf being golf, of course, that didn’t keep him from saying this Thursday for the millionth time in his career: “It was probably the highest score I could have shot today.”
As McIlroy well knows, it’s all relative.