Rory McIlroy presented such dogged optimism after firing four bogeys in five holes here on Friday that one was reminded of the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
It is true that, despite his sequence of high numbers, he still played well enough to salvage a par round of 71 in the awful conditions in the afternoon and early evening. But the bad luck of the draw, in which the leaders had the chance benefit of going out before the weather worsened, means that at two under he is eight shots behind the leader, Phil Mickelson, and has only an outside chance of Open glory on Sunday.
Three birdies in the opening seven holes enabled him to claw his way up the leaderboard at five under par. But then came the slump and, crucially, his first two bogeys before the weather turned evil. They looked more like aberrations.
But McIlroy maintained his Panglossian view of matters at the end of a difficult day. “I’m honestly quite happy with my two rounds of golf,” he said.
“On the back nine I had a bit of a bad run around the turn and missed two short putts in a row on nine and 10. But I held it together nicely coming in and played the last five holes at one under par. And anything around even par this afternoon was a decent score.”
That is true enough but it still leaves the men who went out in the morning holding all the aces. McIlroy refused the opportunity to whinge about his situation. “It’s the Open Championship. Some draws go your way and some draws don’t. The last Open I played, I got the good end of the draw and good things happened that week. I’m not going to let being on the wrong side ruin my mood or ruin my week. I think everyone had that spell of maybe half an hour where it was just brutal.”
He added: “The way I played gives me optimism going into the weekend. And I played the front nine well, especially. So if I can get off to a similar start tomorrow and get a little closer to the leaders, play the back nine a little better, you never know.” McIlroy pointed to the promise of improved conditions for Saturday and the importance of making a strong start. “The back nine, no matter what wind you get, is going to be very difficult.
“But I feel like it’s possible. There are 36 holes to go. I’ve given people head starts before and been able to win and I’m just going to try to draw on those memories.”
It had all started so well for McIlroy, even though he missed a birdie chance on the 1st after a strong approach shot. At the 2nd, though, he sank a 25-footer to go three under. He made pars on the next three holes – although he needed an excellent chip on the 4th to set him up for a straightforward four-footer.
At the 6th, though, he managed something better, starting with a long drive and finishing with a 15ft putt to move to four under par. He followed that up with a birdie three on the 7th after chipping to within six feet and then putting out solidly.
It was then that things began to get a bit ragged. At the Postage Stamp 8th he drove into the Coffin bunker, though he managed to disinter himself with a nice sand shot to go within three feet of the flag for a simple par.
At the 9th, though, he began his remarkable descent, dropping down the leaderboard like a dead weight. He looked well placed in the plump of the green after two shots. His third took him to a couple of feet from the hole. But he missed it to go back to four under.
That became three under on the first hole of his return journey, even though he had a 25-footer for a birdie. His effort went three feet past and then he missed the return par putt. He could be seen chuntering to himself as he left the scene of the crime.
On the 11th a strong second shot put him in with a chance of a birdie from just under 20ft. He missed it but was probably happy to settle his jangling nerves with a calming par.
It was only a brief respite. At the 12th he found the rough and then went into a bunker. He got out of it but the ball looked like a wasp crawling out of a puddle of water. He used his club to strike the sand in frustration. He could not make up the distance to the hole and dropped another shot. He was now two under, the score he had at the start of he day.
It got worse. He could not make par at the long par-four 13th and had now made four bogeys in five holes. At this point he had even given up chuntering, as if no longer on speaking terms with himself.
It was now damage limitation. He did manage to cling on to par at the 14th and 15th and even pulled one back at the 16th with a putt from 20ft. The awful weather had now relented.
McIlroy went within a couple of inches of another birdie at the 17th and finished off with another par. “I played really well out there today,” he said, and in the distressing circumstances no one was prepared to put up an argument.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010