DORAL, Fla. – Rory McIlroy is a lot of things. Resilient may top the list.
The world No. 1 didn’t play like a top-ranked player, but he played as well as we’ve seen him play this year. Not sure if it’s progress, but it certainly wasn’t regression.
We’ve seen McIlroy miss the cut in Abu Dhabi, exit after the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play and WD last week at the Honda Classic smack in the middle of Round 2.
So with a guarantee of playing four complete rounds at Doral – barring anything freakish – McIlroy set out to ditch the massive pressure he’d put on his broad shoulders and have fun again, like he did as a youngster growing up in Holywood, Northern Ireland.
Not sure the round could be described as pleasant, but it didn’t seem to be packed with pressure either.
McIlroy shot 1-over-par 73 Thursday playing alongside Tiger Woods and Luke Donald. He made an eagle, three birdies and six bogeys on a day where his score could’ve been much, much worse. He worked hard to shoot the score and is tied for 50th, seven shots behind leaders Woods, Freddie Jacobson, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell and Bubba Watson.
Statistics were terrible, which speaks to McIlroy’s ability to grind out a score while still feeling uncomfortable over the ball. He only hit 3-of-14 fairways (none on his last nine holes), 11-of-18 greens and took 31 strokes with the short stick.
Not a recipe for rebound.
“It was a bit of a struggle to be honest,” McIlroy said. “Hit some good shots, hit some not so good shots. I’ve got another three rounds here to try and work on it a bit more and shoot a few good scores and we’ll see what happens.”
Seemed like McIlroy put a lot of undue stress on himself, which is contrary to the concept of trying to play pressure-free golf.
McIlroy made back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 13 and 14 – he began his round on the 10th hole. He blew his tee shot left on the par-3 13th and hit his chip shot to 8 feet and missed the putt. Similar situation on the par-4 14th came when his approach shot was left of the green. He chipped to 10 feet to miss the putt and get to 2 over par after the first five holes.
An eagle on the first hole was timely and brought McIlroy back to even par but he bogeyed the next three holes, two of them with three-putts. To his credit he birdied the seventh and eighth holes to salvage 73.
“It was nice to sneak in a couple birdies on the last three holes and make it look somewhat respectable, even though everyone seems to be going pretty low out there today,” McIlroy said. “I wasn’t putting that much pressure on myself and that’s why I didn’t get as frustrated. 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 still working at it and it will come together pretty soon.”
Count Woods as a believer that McIlroy’s return to form will happen soon. The two were fairly chatty for most of the round – Woods had nine birdies, he had plenty to be pleased with – and admitted later that he and McIlroy have chatted about the latter’s game. Woods wouldn’t say what they discussed, but said they’ve talked.
“I don’t think he’s quite drawing the ball like he used to,” Woods diagnosed. “Maybe just a little bit defensive out there. And that happens, and we have all gone through stretches like this. It happened to him last year in the middle of the year, and ended up all right at the end of the year.
“When you play golf and you play golf for a very long time, you’re going to have spells like this. You can’t play well every week, even though you try. You’re going to have ups-and-downs and just got to battle through it.”