SANDWICH, England -- Where is Rory McIlroy’s game and why is it so hard to find?
It's a legitimate question, and it has his fans and media clamoring for an answer.
Thursday’s first round at Royal St. George’s in the 149th Open Championship was a microcosm of the issues that have plagued the 32-year-old since capturing his last major title, the 2014 PGA Championship.
McIlroy made two good swings, including a 350-yard drive, on the 1st hole and another two good swings 2nd hole. He looked at extremely makeable birdie chances on both holes and converted one of the two.
That itself is not criminal, but it is a pattern. When the second birdie slid by the hole, you could just feel that this wasn't going to be McIlroy's day, and it indeed was not.
In the middle of the front nine, McIlroy had a run of three consecutive bogeys, dropping him from 1-under to 2-over and forcing him to play offense, when that is the last thing you want to do in the first round of any tournament, especially a major.
McIlroy seemed to right the ship with three birdies, including a finisher on 18 in front of a crowd that had clearly waited for him. He then quickly went through the exits with five games still on the course.
“After that little wobble on the front nine I set myself a little target of getting back to even par and I was able to achieve that and that feels good,” McIlroy said after signing for an even-par 70. “I’ll probably sleep a bit better tonight and feel a bit better going into the second round.”
McIlroy goes home six shots behind Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open Champion. With 54 holes to play it may not seem like a lot, but McIlroy needs to climb over 47 players to catch Oosthuizen.
That group of 47 includes Jordan Spieth, Danny Willett, Justin Rose, Collin Morikawa, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, and Francesco Molinari, just to name a few of those at 2 under or better.
The weather did turn nastier for McIlroy than it was for the morning games, and there is no question that in the Open Championship the draw can be crucial, so it is only fair to see how things work out in Friday’s second round and where McIlroy sits amongst the field after 36 holes.
A missed cut would not be the end of the world, but it would take McIlroy into the Masters next year without a major title since the 2014 PGA Championship. While the window is not closed, as Phil Mickelson proved this year at Kiawah Island, it would leave McIlroy contemplating where he goes from here.
It may seem like an awful lot to put on McIlroy’s shoulders and may be overstating the importance of Friday's second round, but in the history of golf, very few have had a break of seven or more years between major victories, and two of them were the greatest in the game: Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.
Seve Ballesteros, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson and Peter Thomson never managed to do it, and all had small windows of six to 11 years when they won their majors.
All of these players have more majors than McIlroy.
So, Friday is crucial. And Saturday, if he's still around, will be equally as crucial. History waits for no one in this game and McIlroy is bumping up against history.
More Day 1 British Open Coverage from Morning Read:
- Bryson DeChambeau Rips Gear, Says Driver 'Sucks' After Uneven Opening Round
- Rory McIlroy's Putter, And History, Work Against Him in Round 1
- Spieth (65) Enjoys Vintage Opening Round in Quest to Cap Comeback Season
- Louis Oosthuizen, Jordan Spieth Start Fast in Round 1
- Phil Mickelson Tied for Last After Shooting Ugly 80
- Cink Eyes Follow-up Act to 2009 Open Title Over Tom Watson
- England's Richard Bland Relishes First Tee Shot Thursday Morning
-Weather is Always a Factor at British Open -- Especially This Week