KILLARNEY, Ireland – Rory McIlroy showed his temperamental side after blowing an early lead Thursday at the Irish Open, double-bogeying the 18th hole – then insulting a critical commentator and telling him to shut up.
Fresh from his 1 under opening round of 70, McIlroy fired off a riposte to the Twitter account of American analyst and former pro Jay Townsend.
“Shut up. You’re a commentator and a failed golfer. Your opinion means nothing!” wrote McIlroy, the 22-year-old prodigy from Northern Ireland.
McIlroy’s up-and-down performance was the talking point on a day that promised to shine a spotlight on the island’s incredible recent run of golfing success.
Joining McIlroy at Killarney, a resort town backed by stunning views of Ireland’s largest mountain chain, were British Open winner Darren Clarke, last year’s U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell and three-time major winner Padraig Harrington.
Outshining the local stars was Jeev Milkha Singh of India, who hit a career-best 63 to lead by two shots at 8 under.
Singh hit an eagle and six birdies, the highlight a 20-foot chip uphill into the cup on the 12th.
“I think it’s one of the best putting rounds I’ve ever had. I nearly holed everything today,” said Singh, 39, who is making a comeback after serious back problems last year.
McIlroy, who fizzled at the British Open two weeks ago, looked early on like the man to beat, making birdies on four of the first 10 holes. Then the accuracy of his drives deserted him, leading to a bogey on the 12th.
On the 14th, he struck a nearly impossible shot, hooking a ball around a large oak and on to the green to salvage par, and his magic touch appeared restored. McIlroy estimated it hooked 50 yards within a 125-yard distance.
“To be honest, I didn’t really think I could get it on the green. I just wanted to get it up short. I caught it really nicely. It was definitely one of the best shots I’ve ever hit,” McIlroy said.
But his gambling ways produced two mistakes on the 18th. First he drove into a bunker, then his attempt to find the green sailed far left into a pond.
Townsend, a former European Tour player providing live coverage for Irish broadcasters RTE, started blasting McIlroy’s approach even before the ball hit the water.
“That’s why you don’t hit it in the bunker. Watch this,” he said, pausing for the splash.
Noting that other commentators had been describing McIlroy’s play as refreshingly loose, Townsend said: “He plays silly, several times already today.”
McIlroy came off the green head bowed and looking unhappy.
“To finish with a 6 at the last was tough to take,” he said.
As he headed to the practice range, McIlroy was told of Townsend’s criticisms, both on RTE and on his own Twitter account. Townsend, on the social media site, had just blamed McIlroy’s caddie since 2008, J.P. Fitzgerald, for overseeing “some of the worst course management I have ever seen beyond under 10’s boys golf competition.”
McIlroy fired back by Twitter. Townsend replied that he stood by his criticisms, McIlroy that he stood by his caddie.
Later, McIlroy said he’d insulted Townsend in defense of his caddie, not himself.
Referring to Townsend, McIlroy said: “He’s been having a go at J.P. every now and again. This was the first time I’ve responded. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” McIlroy said. “Now I’ve blocked him on Twitter, so I won’t be reading anything more.”
Several commentators and former players called McIlroy’s reaction immature and unwarranted, in part because the criticism was accurate.
Former European Tour pro John McHenry said analysts should say “when a guy is making a (mess) of his round.”
He said McIlroy’s back nine featured “very, very loose shots, some of which were unforced errors. … They were really a lot of poor decisions.”
Clarke, the 42-year-old Northern Irishman who won his first major at Royal St. George’s two weeks ago, shook off an opening-hole bogey for a solid 69.
Clarke admitted to spending much of the weekend in bed recuperating from his epic post-British Open partying, his first major win in a 20-year career. His much-broadcast weeklong booze-up had been the talk of the nation for much of the past week.
Earlier this week, Clarke told those criticizing him to “get a life,” but conceded Thursday that he’d done himself some damage.
“My self-inflicted man flu hasn’t quite gotten that much better yet,” said Clarke, who frequently paused to cough and sniffle. “But I’m feeling strong enough to play well.”
The strongest Irish performance Thursday came from unheralded Colm Moriarty, ranked 536th in the world and a regular on the second-tier Challenge Tour. He shot a 67, the same as defending champion Ross Fisher of England and several others.