Let’s face it. To this point, it hasn’t been Rory McIlroy’s week.
The former No. 1 player in the world came to Royal St. George’s Golf Club hoping to break a spell that has seen him go seven years without a major championship. His last major celebration was his victory at the 2014 PGA Championship, his fourth major title at the tender age of 25.
But it seems unlikely he will break the chains at the 149th British Open. It just hasn’t been his week.
First there was a bout with a butterfly, which caused him to mishit his tee shot at No. 6 on Thursday. The nectar-feeding insect distracted McIlroy in the midst of his backswing. What are the odds?
The up-and-down day flight of the butterfly mirrored the character of McIlroy’s round, which ended with four birdies, four bogeys and an even-par 70.
On Saturday, McIlroy appeared to be jumping into the thick of things. He fired off five birdies on the front side, climbing to a tournament-leading 13 birdies for the week. When he made the turn, the 32-year old Irishman was 4 under for the championship. Then came more calamity.
At No. 11, McIlroy missed a “kick-in” length putt, an airball that did not even touch the edge of the hole. At No. 13, McIlroy yanked an iron left off the tee and responded with a rare loss of poise, tossing the offending club in frustration.
Then at No. 13, McIlroy missed another layup, as his short putt rimmed the hole and rolled out. All he could do was smile. When it was all said and done, his back nine included three bogeys and no more birdies. He finished the day with a 69 and will enter the final round 1 under for the week, essentially out of contention.
“Sort of a tale of two nines,” said McIlroy, who tied for second at the 2018 British Open and was T7 at the U.S. Open in June. “I played great on the front nine, hit some really good iron shots and converted some putts and really got it going.
“Then the back nine played tough. They're sort of tucking the pins away. They've stretched the golf course out to as long as it can play. I was hitting 2-iron into the 11th hole, that par 3, and that was sort of … I missed a short putt there for par and it kind of killed the momentum I had.”
Thus, McIlroy figures to head to the Masters in April still carrying the major monkey on his back. Tossed clubs and momentary frustrations aside, he remains optimistic.
“It was encouraging to see some of the golf that I played on that front nine (today),” McIlroy said. “It's just a matter of trying to keep that going and try to turn those nine-hole stretches into 18-hole stretches, and then those 18-hole stretches into whole tournaments. It's getting there.”
Make no mistake, McIlroy, who relinquished the No. 1 spot in the OWGR last year, is well aware of the time passed since his last major. He’s determined to turn the tide. But he’s also aware of a bigger picture, one that includes 19 PGA Tour wins and some $60 million in career earnings, one that is far less discouraging.
“I’ve got four of them,” said McIlroy, who also won the British Open at Royal Liverpool in 2014. “Geez, look, I’ve got… I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I get to do what I love for a living. I have a beautiful family.
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