Rory McIlroy was yesterday accused of being “childish”, “immature” and “a spoilt brat” after launching an extraordinary attack on a former European Tour professional turned BBC commentator who criticised his “shocking course management” and caddie.
As ever nowadays, the battleground was Twitter. “Shut up,” McIlroy tweeted to Jay Townsend, an American best known for summarising on Radio Five Live. “You're a commentator and a failed golfer, your opinion means nothing.”
The 22-year-old may risk a fine from the tour as Townsend is actually here at the Irish Open working for European Tour Productions, who broadcast a world feed.
Immediately McIlroy's saintly reputation took a hit in America. The Golf Channel carried the coverage and after hearing of the unseemly row, the presenter Erik Kuselias demanded on ‘Morning Drive’ that McIlroy apologise to Townsend, who played on Tour for six seasons and who finished second in the 1993 Heineken Open in Spain.
“This is childish, immature,” said Kuselias.
“He comes across as a spoiled brat who feels entitled. This is dumb from someone we've all probably anointed just a little too quickly. I fully expect an apology in the morning.”
If McIlroy is challenged by the Tournament Players’ Committee, which deals with discipline, the young Ulsterman would no doubt point to the fact it was Townsend who started the dispute.
During his on-course commentary, Townsend was critical of McIlroy's decision making as he struggled in for a one-under 70 after being four-under after 10 holes. But it was on the social network where Townsend was most expressive.
“Some of the worst course management I have ever seen beyond under 10s boys golf competition,” wrote Townsend, after stating that McIlroy should hire Steve Williams, Tiger Woods's ex-caddie, because “JP [Fitzgerald] allowed some SHOCKING course management today.”
It was the reference to his caddie that enraged McIlroy.
McIlroy is ever faithful to his fellow Irishman, defending Fitzgerald in the wake of his Masters meltdown, when the spotlight fell on the bagman. Townsend was again one of Fitzgerald's most vocal critics.
“He's been having a go at JP every now and again since then and this was the first time I've responded — it was the straw that broke the camel's back,” said McIlroy later.
“Now I've blocked him on Twitter, so I won't be reading anything more.”
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While McIlroy's loyalty is, in one sense, commendable, the belittling tone of his riposte was unnecessary.
Did the double bogey on the final hole have anything to do with the vitriol?
In fairness to Townsend, he was not the only one to question McIlroy's strategy during a round in which he struggled with his driving. Many felt the 18th was a case in point.
The wise play was, like many of other pros, to hit an iron off the tee to take the fairway bunkers out of the equation; instead McIlroy opted for a three-wood and proceeded to find the sand.
From there, he located the water guarding the left side of the green, leading to two dropped shots, sending him seven shots off Jeev Milkha Singh's lead.
The Indian's 63 was excellent, granting him a two shot cushion over Frenchman Alexandre Kaleka and three-shots ahead of a group including the resurgent Michael Campbell, but all the talk was of McIlroy's rant.
Since winning the US Open in such emphatic style five weeks ago, the cracks have began to appear. The critics rounded on him for his comments at the Open when he declared he was “not a fan” of tournaments decided by the weather.
Nobody should forget McIlroy's tender years, or that so much expectation has been placed on those still inexperienced shoulders. Of course, his home island will not think any less of him. One only had to look at the reaction here to realise that.
The huge galleries would be the envy of most other tournaments on a Sunday never mind a Thursday.
They came to hail, McIlroy and the Open champion, Darren Clarke (who shot a 69), and were treated to a few classic moments.
And there was plenty of cheers to for Graeme McDowell. He was hoping to hit back from missing the cut at Sandwich, but has been having treatment for a sore back.
“It generally loosens out, but didn't really this morning and I got a little stuck with a few irons shots,” he stated.
“It's not alarm bells, just a little bit of stiffness. I might have a couple of medicinal pints tonight just to loosen the back!”
Last year's runner-up Harrington also made an early departure from The Open and at 64th in the world, feels things just are not going his way at the minute.
“Golf is a strange game,” said the Dubliner. “At one under (after 10) I was thinking four under and it turned around very quickly.”
He bogeyed three of the next four.
The outstanding highlight though was McIlroy's second to the 14th, where from heavy rough, he somehow managed to put a 50-yard hook on a wedge to evade an oak tree and come to rest 10 feet from the pin. Wayne Riley, the Sky Sports summariser, called it “the best shot I have ever seen”.
McIlroy didn't go quite as far, calling it “one of my best shots ever”. Yet he had another commentator in his sights.
So, just who is Jay Townsend?
The man at the centre of yesterday's Twitter war with Rory McIlroy is American Jay Townsend (49), once a journeyman professional on the European Tour, but now best known for his sharp punditry with The Golf Channel and BBC Radio 5 Live. Townsend never won in eight seasons on the European Tour from 1991 to 1998. His best finish was second place, three shots behind winner Sam Torrance, at the 1993 Catalan Open in Spain.
In all, he registered just 13 top-10 finishes on tour.
In his capacity as the Golf Channel's European Tour analyst, Townsend is commentating on this week's Irish Open in Killarney. He was critical of the course management employed by McIlroy and his caddie JP Fitzgerald during yesterday morning's broadcast to the US and his words were relayed live on RTE Television.
Yet McIlroy first read his observations on Twitter, which drew a hot-blooded response from the 22-year-old Ulsterman, who says Townsend has been critical of Fitzgerald since the summer of 2008, adding: “Today was the straw which broke the camel's back.”