Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Past miseries come back to haunt McIlroy

Aiming high: Rory McIlroy watches his tee shot on the second hole during the second round of The Players' Championship

As Martin Kaymer rediscovered the calm, polished efficiency which made him a Major champion at age 26 to romp into a clear clubhouse lead at The Players, Rory McIlroy's waking nightmares returned at Sawgrass.

Conditions were markedly tougher during yesterday's second round as the wind rose and the greens on the Champions Course, several of them scarred after a rough winter and an accidental overdose of chemical treatment, grew hard and a little crusty.

Yet Kaymer rose above it all as he followed Thursday's course record-equalling 63 with a rock-steady three-under-par 69 with a brand of golf we've rarely seen from the German since he won the 2010 US PGA Championship.

Intriguingly, he explained his recent return to good form after several seasons recovering from ill-fated efforts to expand his repertoire and hit a draw by saying: "I stopped thinking, that's pretty much the bottom line."

In contrast, McIlroy appeared haunted by past miseries at Sawgrass during an appaling five-hole stretch on the front nine in which he frittered away six shots.

After dropping three shots in the final seven holes of his first-round 70, the 25-year-old had ground to make-up.

Instead, the spectre of a fourth missed cut in five appearances on Pete Dye's masterpiece arose for McIlroy.

After missing a couple of decent birdie chances on the opening two holes, the Holywood native played slipshod golf and missed a series of short putts as he followed bogeys at three, four and five with a double-bogey six at the sixth, then yet another dropped shot at seven.

In contrast, Graeme McDowell appeared to hole putts with abandon as he followed Thursday's 69 by completing his outward half in two-under 34, a whopping eight shots better than his fellow Ulsterman.

Darren Clarke needed to shoot the lights out to make the weekend after Thursday's 76 so the three-putt bogey he made from 42 feet at the first was heart-breaking.

Still, the 45-year-old Ulsterman managed to entertain the early-comers in the 45,000 crowd with some magic of his own, even if a second-round 73 left him well beyond the pale on five-over par.

Clarke needed to sink putts of four feet or less for three consecutive birdies through five; made bogey out of the left trap at eight; dropped six shots in four holes through 14, including a triple-bogey six after putting two balls in the water at 13; then made another stirring hat-trick of birdies at 13, 16 and the island green at 17.

By that time, of course, Clarke's fate was sealed. Already consigned to his fifth missed cut in seven events, the 2011 Open champion played beautifully uninhibited golf down the stretch at Sawgrass.

Clearly, it's still in there –- just a matter of Clarke getting it out. Or as Kaymer said so eloquently, simply play without thinking.

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