Friday does not have to bring weak end to McIlroy’s hopes

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy shoots down the 18th hole.
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy shoots down the 18th hole.
0
Have your say

Freaky Friday or Frightening Friday – call it what you will, but Rory McIlroy has not had a good Friday feeling for a long time.

One of the great imponderables of golf in 2014 is the form of arguably the most gifted player of his generation.

Spellbindingly brilliant and able to blow opponents away on Thursdays, the 25-year-old former world No 1 has played Fridays like a 10-handicapper struggling in the monthly medal.

Time and again on a Thursday he has put himself in a position to strike, only to end his chances with a nightmare second round.

He has done it five times this year, first in Dubai in January when he backed up a 63 with a 70. Then, at the Masters, McIlroy went 71, 77.

Another seven-shot swing followed at the Wells Fargo Championship before, in June, he left Memorial Tournament organiser and golf great Jack Nicklaus scratching his head and asking: “How the hell can you shoot 63 and then 78?”

Just last week, McIlroy looked to have the Scottish Open field eating out of the palm of his hand when he opened with a course-record 64, only to retreat so far into the pack that he nearly missed the cut with a 78.

In total, McIlroy is 57 under par on a Thursday this year, and nine over on a Friday.

A similar scenario presents itself today.

He leads the Open after a bogey-free 66 after his accuracy and ball-striking came to the fore.

The conditions for his afternoon tee-time might not be as favourable, with showers forecast for the Wirral area throughout the day.

But his chances of glory have drowned often enough this year without any havoc which the elements can cause.

Asked to explain why it has gone so badly wrong for him on a Friday, McIlroy – as is customary – did not try to make excuses or laugh off the suggestion.

“Whenever I go out and play on Thursdays there are not really many expectations,” said McIlroy, who also led the 2010 Open after an opening 63 at St Andrews, but followed it with an 80 in atrocious conditions.

“You’re going out there and you’re trying to find a rhythm and you’re just trying to play your way into the round.

“When you go back out on a Friday after a good score you know what you can do, so you’re going out with some expectations compared to Thursday.

“I think I’ve just got to approach it like that, start off trying to hit solid shots the first few holes and play my way into the round, just like I did (yesterday).”

It is clearly a mental issue with McIlroy because his golf game looks impeccable.

Once he overcomes this nagging doubt, then good luck to the rest of the field keeping up.

Not that a field laced with star names will let McIlroy have it all his own way.

His impressive round was one of many among the morning starters, with three Italians in Matteo Manassero and the 
Molinari brothers, Edoardo and Francesco, within one and two shots, respectively.

Sergio Garcia and the old and new American duo of Jim Furyk and Brooks Koepka are also at four under, along with Ireland’s Shane Lowry and Adam Scott, the world No 1.

Scott, who posted his score in the tougher conditions of the afternoon, has shot par or better in 12 of his last 17 rounds at the Open.

There are four men who can overtake him in the world rankings this week, but ominously each one is already playing catch-up.

Justin Rose, the pre-tournament favourite after back-to-back wins in America and Scotland, is level par after battling the blustery afternoon conditions.

He sits alongside Henrik Stenson and is one ahead of Jason Day, with Masters champion Bubba Watson eight behind Scott on four over par.

Two Englishmen who have topped the global rankings in the past, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald, shot 71 and 73 respectively, while defending champion Phil Mickelson struggled to a 74 and two-time winner Ernie Els is five over.

Tiger Woods wins comeback player of the day for two reasons; his 69 after starting bogey-bogey and for the fact that this was only his third competitive round since undergoing back surgery on March 31.

His name on the leaderboard evokes memories of his heyday, while the likes of fellow-American Rickie Fowler, alongside him at three under par, underline the quality that has risen early at Hoylake.

But the first day of the Open is not just about the big names, it is about the professionals and amateurs trying to steal the limelight for 15 minutes.

It may not have worked out for Huddersfield’s Chris Hanson, who posted an 81, but it did for Shropshire amateur Ashley Chesters, who is threatening to succeed Sheffield’s Matt Fitzpatrick as silver medal winner.

“I’ve never felt as nervous as I was on that first tee. I’m just glad it hit the club face and went straight,” said Chesters, who, at 24 is not only the highest-placed amateur, but also the highest-placed Englishman after a round of two-under-par 70.