Struggles with putter leave Rory McIlroy in danger of missing cut at PGA Championship

Struggles with putter leave Rory McIlroy in danger of missing cut at PGA Championship

PGA Tour

Struggles with putter leave Rory McIlroy in danger of missing cut at PGA Championship

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SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – On a sweltering hot day, Rory McIlroy’s putter could best be described by an old Foreigner hit song: “Cold as ice.” No circles on the scorecard for McIlroy, who didn’t make a putt longer than 6 feet en route to shooting a 4-over 74 in the opening round of the 98th PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club. He also was dusted by fellow competitors Jason Day, who carded a 68, and Phil Mickelson, who rallied from a slow start for 71.

McIlroy, considered one of the favorites entering the tournament, said he drove it “as well as ever,” but his irons were spotty, and he couldn’t buy a putt. “When I get on the greens it was a different story,” he said. For McIlroy, it was one of those days where numbers do tell the story. He made a total of 37 feet of putts, and lost nearly four strokes to the field with his flatstick as measured by Strokes Gained: putting. A frustrated McIlroy tossed his putter after he missed a 5-foot par putt at the second hole, his 11th hole of the day.

“I can’t remember the last time I went a round without a birdie,” McIlroy said.

As a matter of fact, it wasn’t that long ago. Try April at the Masters when McIlroy shot himself out of the tournament with a third-round 77.

McIlroy looked dejected after the round. Just days before, he discussed how he could turn his season, which he described as stuck in neutral, into an A+ with a victory this week. Too bad his putting performance rated an F.

“Just no momentum out there,” he said.

McIlroy’s 74 beat only seven players in the morning wave. Earlier this year, McIlroy switched to a cross-handed putting grip, which he used at the Masters, but switched back to a conventional grip after winning the Irish Open in May. Neither has served him well this season.

Phil Mickelson can relate. He continued to dabble between putting grips, going back and forth between a conventional and claw putting grip, depending on the length of the putt. After playing two bogey-free rounds at the British Open two weeks ago, Lefty looked out of sorts early. He couldn’t find his rhythm and was quick at the top and trying to steer the ball with little success. He was in danger of shooting himself out of the tournament on Thursday at 4 over through 11 holes.

“Could have been terrible,” he said. “The game has been very easy and the first 11 holes were very hard.”

But he turned his day around by making birdies at three of the next five holes, and credited the New Jersey fans for giving him an emotional lift.

“I remember walking off of No. 3 and a guy said, ‘Hey, you’ve got a lot of golf left, you’re not out of this, let’s get going.’ He’s right. Got a lot golf left. I came back and made some birdies. Birdied that hole,” Mickelson said.

And then there was World No. 1 Jason Day, who signed for a ho-hum 2-under 68, which included three birdies against one bogey. Day didn’t have his ‘A game’ or putt particularly well either, but he’s off to a solid start in his title defense.

“I’m pretty pleased,” he said. “To be able to go out there and hit it exactly where I’m going and see the shot and what I need to do and actually execute it was exciting for me.”

Day, who has played in three different countries the last three weeks, said that taking Monday and Tuesday off proved to be a blessing in disguise because too much practice would’ve zapped his energy. He took a more conservative approach on the opening round of his title defense by design.

“I think with a major championship, you have got to be patient, take your opportunities when you can and work yourself up to the lead come Sunday,” he said. “If you get off to a great start, great. If not, kind of chip away at it.”

Mickelson hopes to chip away at it on Friday while McIlroy knows he has dug himself a big hole.

“I need a good one tomorrow just to be around for the weekend,” he said.

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