Rory McIlroy said his decision to skip the Players Championship last year “was not one of my brightest”. It turns out it may have been one of his smartest. His record at Sawgrass is now played three, lost three after completing his hat-trick of missed cuts.
He shot a four over par 76 yesterday to add to his first round 72. "It's unbelievable," McIlroy said. "I shoot 14 under last week and I feel like I hit it just the same this week and I'm going home. I'll come back. I promise," he said with a grin. "Hopefully I'm coming back here for another 20 years. If I don't figure it out on my 20th go, there's something wrong."
McIlroy said of all the courses he plays this is the one that gives him nightmares. "You look at Tiger [Woods] and Phil [Mickelson] and the calibre of player that they are, they definitely have got other courses that are more to their liking," he said. "It's just a course you have to figure out." This was the first cut McIlroy has missed on the US tour in over 12 months. He now has a week off before heading to Wentworth for the BMW PGA Championship.
He will be joined in Surrey by Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, with both still in the race jogging along at three under par. Ahead of them in the chasing pack behind early pace setter Zach Johnson are Brian Davis once of London, now of Florida, and Martin Laird, once of Glasgow, now from Arizona.
Thousands of spectators gathered to follow McIlroy and Mickelson expecting fireworks from the flamboyant shot-makers. There were a couple of rockets and whiz-bangs but mostly it was a display of damp squibs. McIlroy teased with a birdie at the 10th (his first). But his encore was five bogeys and 12 pars. McIlroy usually bounces along like Tigger in Winnie the Pooh. At Sawgrass, he was mostly Eeyore. His first bogey came at the par three 14th. He pushed his tee shot into a deep bunker leaving him the task of running his ball down the back of an elephant buried in the green and get it to stop at the hole. It trickled off the green 25 yards away.
Mickelson then gave McIlroy a close up view of his short-game genius. The American's ball was off the back of the green but he slid his wedge beneath the turf behind it like a fish knife and popped the ball up over the rough to kiss the hole. Just as he was about to finish off the job with a two-foot putt, the honk of a Harpo Marx bicycle horn pierced the silence. You hope it was an important text coming in for the fool who had left his mobile switched on. Mickelson never flinched. Par saved. But it was all just a little bit of a struggle for Mickelson and McIlroy.
It was much the same for Westwood and Donald in the group ahead. Parents who can't get their children to eat broccoli should send them to watch Westwood. He devours his greens all day. His play from tee to green is imperious but it's the meat and potatoes of putting that so often gives him cause for indigestion. One birdie chance slipped by the hole at the 14th. Another lipped out at the 15th. He pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. He got two birdies to drop at the first and second, but gave the shots back with bogeys at the fifth and sixth.Donald bagged two eagles but he, too, could advance no further than three under.
Laird could sympathise with them at the players' barbeque. As they say in the Church of Golf, "The Laird giveth and the Laird taketh away." The Scot got to 10 under par to open up a two-shot lead but threw away four shots in the final three holes, slicing his approach to the 16th into the water then dunking his tee shot short of the island green 17th.
There are plenty of sore heads at Sawgrass.