The Barclays: Poor round brings Rory McIlrory back down to earth
Some jested the Ice Bucket Challenge must have left Rory McIlroy cold.
Whatever the reason, after winning two Majors and a first World Golf Championship in four Tigeresque weeks, McIlroy looked decidedly human at Ridgewood Country Club yesterday as he stumbled to an error-strewn, three-over-par 74 at The Barclays, the first of the FedEx Cup play-offs.
Maybe it was to be expected.
Quite rightly, McIlroy took time out to celebrate with family, friends and, effectively, the rest of the world after a stellar stretch described by Aussie Adam Scott as "a Hall of Fame career in a few weeks".
That's what makes the 25-year-old World No 1 different from Woods. At his pomp, Tiger would embark on runs of success sometimes lasting months at a time, devouring titles until the machine broke down physically and, one suspects, mentally in his thirties.
Not only is Ulsterman McIlroy blessed with a higher-spec, lower-maintenance swing than the young Woods, he also has a life outside the fairway ropes.
The 10 days between PGA Championship Sunday at Valhalla and The Barclays were a cheery departure from the preceding several months, in which he devoted myopic attention to his game, especially after breaking-up with fiancee Caroline Wozniacki in May.
Clearly, this short break from routine impacted on his game yesterday.
Yet it'll also help sustain McIlroy through five of the most intense weeks of his season as he tries to win the FedEx Cup in the upcoming Deutsche Bank, BMW and PGA Tour Championships and then leads Paul McGinley's European team into the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
From Valhalla to Manhattan, back to Holywood, on to Old Trafford on Saturday, followed by dinner with Wayne Rooney, McIlroy then returned to the US to link up with Nike stablemate Tiger for the launch of the new Vapor irons and an appearance on the Jimmy Fallon 'Tonight Show'.
On screen, Woods and McIlroy exchanged friendly banter. However, the best was off camera, the 25-year-old revealed, as the wounded Tiger made it clear he's far from finished.
"We talked about a few things and he's telling me, 'I'm not going to let you win a Green Jacket (at The Masters) next year' because he's super competitive," McIlroy explained.
"I might not look it but I'm exactly the same," he added. "I've got a very competitive spirit but it would only be on the golf course. I'll let you win a game of pool. I don't care about that.
"But golf is my thing and, on the inside, I'm trying to beat those guys to death on the course.
"I just think Tiger has a more competitive spirit, period. He'll want to beat you at cards. Anything. I'm a little different in that golf is my vehicle to be competitive in life and I put everything into that."
McIlroy certainly didn't beat anybody to death yesterday as he sprayed tee-shots left and right of the fairway at this AW Tillinghast masterpiece with a driver which had appeared infallible all summer.
After missing seven of 14 fairways and short-siding himself repeatedly in dense greenside rough or bunkers, McIlroy lay well outside the top-100, a staggering eight off clubhouse leaders Hunter Mahan, Cameron Tringale, Charles Howell III, Brendon de Jonge and Ben Martin after facile 66s.
Though he struck his opening couple of tee-shots nicely, McIlroy stumbled to a double-bogey at 12, his third, after driving into the right rough and then short-siding himself in the front greenside bunker. Still a few yards short of the putting surface in three, he made double-bogey there, followed by bogey six at the next and an untidy fourth dropped shot on 18.
Though he got up and down for a decent birdie at the driveable par-four fifth, McIlroy missed from four-feet for par at the short eighth, then restored faith in his putter by holing a 23-footer for a morale-boosting birdie at the last.
"I wasn't quite on my game," McIlroy confessed.
"Probably not putting the time in that I needed to over the past week for obvious reasons. I'm going to go to the range, work on a few things and try and catch up on a little practice that I've missed.
"For me, not being here for the weekend isn't an option. I'll try and get off to a fast start tomorrow and try and get myself back into the tournament."
Meanwhile, McIlroy's fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell (left) produced a promising one under par 70.
The Portrush native will be quietly satisfied with his round as the season builds towards next month's Ryder Cup climax at Gleneagles.