At P.G.A. Championship, Rory McIlroy Is Almost Finished Off by His Start
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — When Rory McIlroy finished his second round at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course on Friday, he tried to reconcile the difference between the two double bogeys in his first three holes and the four birdies over his last six.
“I obviously had a very bad start,” he said as he stood outside the scoring tent. “I didn’t particularly feel like I hit any bad shots. Maybe more bad decisions.”
Whatever the explanation, no golfer had a wilder swing over 18 holes at the P.G.A. Championship than McIlroy, a two-time winner of the event and the onetime heir apparent to Tiger Woods as the dominant figure in the sport. McIlroy is more of a mystery than a master these days, capable of rounds that are brilliant and those in which he seems almost lost.
His first three holes — double bogey, bogey and double bogey — left him in a perilous position, apparently on the brink of missing the cut. But he rebounded well enough to post a one-over-par 71 for the day, which allowed him to stay for the weekend.
“Just glad to be around,” said McIlroy, who is ranked fourth in the world but has just two PGA Tour victories since fall 2016. “I don’t like missing cuts. It’s not something I’m used to, fortunately.”
McIlroy found trouble quickly. He started the round with a 7-iron in his hands at the 10th tee. His opening shot traveled 305 yards, veering far to the right and landing in the fescue. On his second shot, grass wrapped around his club’s shaft to limit that stroke to 91 yards gained. He proceeded to hit the ball from the native area into the left rough before reaching the green. Finally, on his sixth shot, McIlroy put the ball in the hole from 15 inches out.
“It wasn’t the greatest of starts,” he said.
Improvement was not immediate. A sloppy bogey at No. 11 compounded the situation, and he wound up in the rough to the right on No. 12. Too aggressive on his third shot, he hit the ball over the back of the green before registering his double bogey. At that point, he was seven shots over par.
Finally, a turnaround: His approach at No. 13 set up a birdie putt from just under 3 feet.
“I was just glad to see one ball go in the hole,” he said. “I got going from there.”
McIlroy, 30, flipped that ball to a young fan on the way to the next hole. It looked as if it would be a rare keepsake, because McIlroy failed to sink another birdie on his next eight holes.
Still, he had a number in mind to make the cut. At No. 18, he told his caddie, Harry Diamond, that he wanted to shoot three under on his back nine.
“I said to Harry, ‘Let’s not shoot any worse than I shot yesterday,’ ” he said.
In that first-round 72, McIlroy did not make a birdie until the last hole. He had a whopping 36 putts, which ranked 113th in the all-important strokes gained category. After Friday’s round, he was talking like someone without much confidence rather than the best player in the world, which he was not very long ago.
“The ones that didn’t go in could have gone in, and the ones that went in could have missed,” McIlroy said.
But he caught fire down the stretch, the flurry of birdies coming from 12 feet out at No. 4; from more than 23 feet at No. 5; from 22 feet at No. 6; and from just under 19 feet at No. 8.
“It’s just a matter of not pressing too much, staying patient and letting the good golf sort of come through,” he said. “It took a while today, but it eventually got there.”
McIlroy, who will head into Saturday’s action 15 shots off the lead, was a realist about the chances of claiming his fifth major title. He knew just how difficult it would be to mount a serious charge on a course that is not built for comebacks.
“I don’t feel like I’m carrying any sort of momentum into tomorrow,” he said. “I played a nice back nine to make it into the weekend, but tomorrow is a new day.”
If he is to have any chance, though, he knows one thing must change.
“Hopefully I can just start a little bit better,” he said.
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