The Open 2013: Rory McIlroy down and probably out after more misery

One hopes Rory McIlroy is as philosophical behind closed doors as he is in front of the cameras.

After 18 long and arduous holes that must have felt like Groundhog Day for the world No2 this year, McIlroy emerged to face the music in the same stoic manner he has throughout the most testing period of his career.

"I wish I could stand up here and tell you guys what's wrong or what I need to do to make it right, because I feel like I've got the shots," McIlroy said on Thursday after ending the afternoon eight over par and at serious risk of missing the Open cut for the first time. "It's just a matter of going through the right thought process to hit them and that's something that I obviously haven't been doing recently."

It was the most miserable of days for the Northern Irishman under the sweltering Scottish sun. His opening 79 is one stroke short of his worst round at an Open, which came at St Andrews three years ago, but the sense of inevitability that preceded it made the tortuous demise even more alarming.

There was no pride before this fall, no claims that he was confident of lifting the Claret Jug and ending a rut that began with a change of clubs at the beginning of the year. Instead, McIlroy shrugged off questions on Wednesday about his dip in form with refreshing honesty. "I've got a good life," he said. "It doesn't bother me."

It was perhaps ironic that the man who raised those concerns, Sir Nick Faldo, ended the day matching McIlroy's total. Faldo may be a three-times Open champion but the 56-year-old rarely features on tour and has almost completely turned his back on competitive golf .

McIlroy was only one over through the opening nine after clawing a shot back thanks to an accurate tee shot on the par-three 7th. However, there had previously been warning signs after bogeys at the 4th and 5th and, after sliding a birdie putt tantalisingly past the cup on the 9th, what followed after the turn must rank alongside the worst nine holes he has ever played.

A chip left short on the 10th resulted in a bogey before disaster struck at the 379-yard 12th. McIlroy sent his approach over the back of the green and then fluffed his chip out of the semi-rough, the ball rolling agonisingly back to an almost identical position. His response was an over-zealous bump and run that flew 20ft past the hole and a two-putt to follow.

Worse was to come. Despite fighting back with a fine tee-shot on the par-three 13th that left a simple finish, his second double-bogey of the day on 15 was inexplicable. McIlroy found a fairway trap from the tee but managed to creep up to the front apron with his approach, only to fire his putt past the hole and watch it slide into a bunker on the opposite side of the green.

The last two holes provided two more dropped shots and, having hit just 35% of fairways in regulation, there was almost a sense of relief when the 24-year-old walked off the 18th green to sign for a back nine of 42.

"All you're trying to do is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of shots as possible," he said. "I can't really fathom it at the minute and it's hard to stand up here and tell you what's really wrong.

"I feel like I made a lot of progress over the last couple of weeks and then shooting a round like this is obviously not what you want. You've got to go back to the drawing board and think about what you need to do differently or what you need to do better to improve."

The imperious performances of last season seem a distant memory. McIlroy's record win at the US PGA Championship and victory in the Race to Dubai have been followed this year by a walk-off at the Honda Classic and a 25th-place finish in Augusta.

The legal fallout from his split from the management company Horizon Sports is ongoing, while speculation continues to rage that his Nike clubs, part of a lucrative sponsorship deal agreed with the brand, have caused the dip in form.

His playing partners, Phil Mickelson and Hideki Matsuyama, fared much better and McIlroy's display prompted him to concede that a trip to a sports psychologist is perhaps the next step. It may be exactly what is required. McIlroy has worked before with Dr Bob Rotella.

"I'm definitely under-thinking on the golf course, maybe over-thinking it off of it," McIlroy said. "It's just something I've never experienced before."

Rotella writes on his website: "one of the reasons I love golf is the never-ending, ever-changing challenge it presents." For McIlroy, that change cannot come soon enough.

Powered by article was written by James Riach at Muirfield, for on Friday 19th July 2013 00.17 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © Ed McDonald