SOUTHPORT, England – Rory McIlroy was hoping for one round – even one moment – to turn around his recent slump.
It might have come Thursday at The Open, thanks to a pep talk from his caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald.
Four over par after his first five holes at Royal Birkdale, Fitzgerald turned to McIlroy on the sixth tee and said: “You’re Rory McIlroy. What the f--- are you doing?”
McIlroy shrugged off the comment at the time – “I mumbled and said, ‘Whatever’” – but looking back, it was the exchange that kick-started his round.
“Thankfully he’s not had to do it too often,” McIlroy said. “He’s never afraid to do it. I feel today it helped a lot more than at other times because I needed something. It wasn’t that I could look within myself. I was trying to. But J.P. kept me positive out there, so that was very much appreciated.”
After going out in 39, McIlroy birdied four of his last eight holes to salvage a 1-over 71 and sit just six shots off the lead.
“Thankfully I showed the character today to bounce back and hang tough when I needed to,” he said.
McIlroy had missed three of his last four cuts heading into The Open, and he looked dreadful again Thursday.
In stepped Fitzgerald.
“It definitely helped,” McIlroy said. “It kept me positive. So he did a great job.”