Mood player Rory McIlroy seeks to exit trough
The chemistry of deer antler spray and its place on the list of banned substances in golf has had the game in a right old spin, which is good news for Rory McIlroy as it allows him to return to competitive action almost through a side door at Quail Hollow.
The PGA Tour announced it would not be punishing Vijay Singh for his admission of deer antler spray supplement use, despite the presence in it of a banned component known in the drugs trade as IGF-1. Singh admitted his "crime" in an article published in January.
Despite its presence on the banned list there is no satisfactory test for IGF-1 in routine blood testing. That should not matter since admission to the use of a prohibited substance is violation enough according to the regulations governing golf. A sanction was duly applied and appealed against by Singh.
The PGA tour finally ruled this week that Singh would not face a sanction following a ruling from the drugs agency Wada that makes clear the use of the spray is not prohibited unless a positive test results. Singh was sufficiently disturbed by proceedings to withdraw from the Wells Fargo Championship. Ian Poulter is another absentee, removing, notionally at least, another impediment to a McIlroy win this week.
Though mentioned in dispatches, none of the PGA Tour's chosen experts fancies the world No 2 to triumph. It has been a fallow season so far as a Nike ambassador, a few flashes of intuitive brilliance here and there, but not yet an assault on a title. But Quail Hollow is a course he likes, and where he won for the first time on American soil three years ago. McIlroy is a mood player. Troughs have been a feature of the landscape as he negotiated that treacherous stretch connecting boyhood, youth and manhood.
At the Masters last month McIlroy moved to within three of the lead on Saturday and was travelling nicely at one under for his round before Augusta pulled the rug from under him at the seventh, triggering a run of five dropped shots in as many holes. He was out earlier than he might have hoped on the Sunday and shot a tidy 69. If he brings anything like that consistency to his first event since the Masters, McIlroy has every chance of proving the know-it-alls wrong.
Another looking to the winning post is Lee Westwood, who topped the putting stats in Augusta. The flat stick is commonly regarded as Westwood's weakness. Not at the Masters, where he was one of only two not to three-putt. The other giant of the porcelain greens was the 14-year-old Guan Tianlang.
This is Westwood's first tournament as a 40-year-old. Since life is said to begin again at this juncture maybe this cycle will deliver the major he craves. A victory here, where he finished fifth last year, would be his first of the year and a significant signpost.