Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Irish Open: Rory McIlroy ready to let it be

MAYNOOTH, IRELAND - JUNE 26: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland (right) puts his number into the phone of Andriy Shevchenko, former top footballer, following the pro-am event prior to the start of the Irish Open at Carton House Golf Club on June 26, 2013 in Maynooth, Ireland. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy's approach was announced by the excited yelps and cries of children desperate for his glove, golf ball, autograph or any souvenir they could cadge.

Those of us old and sad enough recalled the high-pitched squeals which used greet the Beatles.

For all these kids care, McIlroy could have bitten a chunk out of his unfortunate 9-iron on the back nine at the US Open last Sunday week and gone skinny-dipping in the stream which courses down the right hand side of the 11th green at Merion.

And all their mums and dads want to see over the next four days is the most exciting Irish sports star of his generation burst free of his recent form slump and bring a flavour of his world-conquering feats at Congressional and Kiawah Island to the Montgomerie Course at Carton.

The Irish Open, you see, is ready to give itself up to 'Rory-Mania'. The home crowd is ready to forgive and forget the club-bending and throwing which sullied the 24-year-old's final round at Merion and illustrated to the intensity of McIlroy's frustration with his recent form.

The player himself doesn't appear too troubled by these unwholesome incidents. "Yeah, the club throw," he recalled yesterday. "I hit the fairway on the fifth hole (at Merion) and had to play it left-handed. That was a bit ... I mean, it was unlucky; it was frustration, whatever you want to call it.

"And then on 11, I hit my tee shot in the water, took a drop and hit my third shot in the water," McIlroy went on. "Yeah, obviously it was just frustration. I guess the US Open, as well, it's a course where you feel like you can do well and can shoot a score but it just doesn't allow you.

"Yeah, I just got frustrated. Definitely wasn't the right thing to do. I wouldn't recommend anyone watching on TV or any kids to start throwing their clubs or bending their 9-irons," he mused. "But the 9-iron is intact and got a new shaft this week and is ready to go."

Likes its owner, the club is not the least bit bent out of shape. When someone helpfully suggested he wouldn't be human if he didn't occasionally give in to frustration, McIlroy eagerly took up the baton, saying: "No, of course not.

"I guess there are other ways to show disappointment. Taking it out on your golf clubs probably isn't the right way to do it. Of course everybody is going to get frustrated or angry or disappointed in a bad shot and obviously I'm no different.

"Yeah, it doesn't set a good example, I guess, for people watching me and maybe trying to emulate what I'm doing."

McIlroy did not so eagerly embrace the suggestion by Padraig Harrington on Tuesday that he's inevitably going to have a career of incredible highs, interspersed with the occasional trough, adding: "if he embraces that, I think there'll be less of the lows and more of the consistent highs.

"You want a little bit of the erratic genius in your game, having the peaks and troughs and hopefully it all evens out over time," said Harrington. "We work on trying to make our game more consistent for whatever reason in order for the peaks to happen more often.

"It's peculiar to golf. You want consistency in your goalkeeper or defender in football but not when you're playing against 156 guys in a golf tournament because you've got to be special to win," added the three-times Major Champion.

As ever, McIlroy was not for turning. He agreed that consistency was overrated in golf, saying: "It's much better to win and to be up-and-down in that way. I definitely wouldn't want to finish 30th every week.

"Yet I know I can play consistently at a high level," McIlroy insisted, adding emphatically: "I know that. It's just a matter of bringing it out of myself. I went through periods where I finished in the top-five in 10 or 12 events and that's the sort of golf I want to get back to.

"Of course I would rather win, miss five cuts and win again rather than finish 30th in every event. But I think I've got the game and I'm a good enough player to give myself chances to win, week-in, week-out."

As his fellow Major Champions, Harrington and Graeme McDowell readily concede, McIlroy could suddenly click back into top-gear on the Monty course today ... and if he does, a run of less than spectacular performances in his six Irish Opens to date inevitably will come to a spectacular conclusion next Sunday.

It's remarkable to look back to his first appearance at his national Open at Carton in 2005, when McIlroy, a 16-year-old amateur was delighted to outscore much of the field, including course designer Colin Montgomerie, with a phenomenal first round 71.

The youngster followed up with an 81 in freezing wind and rain the following day to miss the cut ... you see, his reputation for performing poorly in foul weather is deeply rooted. With his shock of curly hair and cherubic face, McIlroy in 2005 didn't look a whole lot different from many of the kids seeking his autograph yesterday.

"Life has changed a little bit since then," he recalled.

"I remember getting kicked out of bars after missing the cut that Friday because I wasn't old enough to drink."

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