Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Rory McIlroy’s fitness in doubt as Matsuyama wins Memorial

Fitness woes: Rory McIlroy
Fitness woes: Rory McIlroy

Seven days can feel like an eternity in golf.

Ask Rory McIlroy, who left London last Sunday week with the BMW PGA title and his US Open prospects soaring but yesterday faced concern for his fitness after a worrying week at Memorial.

Though McIlroy came from seven behind to win at Wentworth, any prospect of him bridging a six-stroke chasm to overnight leader Bubba Watson at Muirfield Village quickly evaporated in the Ohio sunshine.

The 25-year-old Ulsterman's putting, seemingly invincible as he tore apart the pride of tournament host Jack Nicklaus with Thursday's scintillating 63, was problematic yesterday as McIlroy scrabbled for confidence and consistency.

Nicklaus had the last laugh as Masters champion Watson (72) and World No 1 Adam Scott (71) fell apart down the stretch, leaving Hideki Matsuyama (69, courtesy of a fourth successive birdie at 18) and Kevin Na (64) tied on 13-under.

Hot Japanese prospect Matsuyama, 22, won this demolition derby and his first PGA Tour title with a fabulous par out of a fairway bunker on the first tie hole after Na drove into the stream left of the fairway.

McIlroy's week turned on the seventh fairway in the first round when he painfully ricked his knee as he hit a full-blooded 3-wood.

While a spectacular haul of two eagles and seven birdies on Thursday suggested the damage was minor and McIlroy himself insisted it had no bearing on Friday's calamitous 78, not even an encouraging 69 on Saturday completely dispelled doubts.

Concern was inevitable once again yesterday as McIlroy stalled on the opening holes, needing to hole decent putts to save par at two and three before dropping his first shot of a lack-lustre day out of a greenside bunker at the short fourth.

Hopes for the Holywood native rallied as he holed from seven feet for birdie four at five; flickered again with a three-putt bogey at six; rose momentarily with another birdie four at seven then fell when he took three putts from 18 feet for bogey at nine and turned in one-over.

This dizzying see-saw ride continued for the next three holes, though McIlroy showed his fighting spirit had not been sapped as he birdied 15 and 17, the latter on the back of a monster 362-

yard drive which suggested the knee damage can't be all that bad.

Yet as a closing 72 left McIlroy on six-under and outside the top-10 for the first time in six tournaments, that knee-tweak, if not particularly painful, clearly cramped his style and drained that Wentworth mojo.

* Gavin Moynihan swooped brilliantly with a late eagle to become only the second Irish winner in the 57-year history of the Scottish Amateur Open Stroke Play, one of the most prestigious championships in Britain or Ireland.

Walker Cup star Moynihan (19) also needed to show phenomenal resilience on the Panmure links yesterday as he rebounded from a grievous early hammer blow yesterday to post superlative rounds of 68 and 67 and finish two ahead of a top-class field.

The pride of The Island ran up a nightmare quintuple-bogey nine on the 12th but recovered splendidly with three birdies down the stretch to sign for a two-under 68 that left him six off the lead at lunch and tied fourth with Walker Cup team-mate Rhys Pugh on two-under.

Moynihan then clinched a famous victory to go with the Irish Amateur Open title he won historically at age 17 in 2012 by going around Panmure in three-under in the afternoon as North Sea breezes rose in Carnoustie country.

A magnificent eagle three at 14 made all the difference as University of Alabama student Moynihan bridged a yawning 33-year gap to another Malahide native Philip Walton's win in the 1981 Scottish Stroke Play.

For the second Sunday in succession, Irish golf celebrated a memorable one-two as recent West winner Jack Hume of Naas shared runner-up spot with Huddersfield's Nick Marsh and Aussie Geoff Drakeford.

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