He was the overwhelming favourite for the 2019 Open, but it started in the worst possible fashion. Rory McIlroy has his say on the shot that pricked his Portrush balloon
Ask Rory McIlroy for his one career mulligan and high on his list will be the 2-iron that went left off the 1st tee at Royal Portrush and would slip beyond the out-of-bounds stakes. Within minutes he was taking a penalty drop by the green before missing a short putt to record a quadruple-bogey eight. The pre-championship favourite started his home Open, the scene of his ridiculous 61 as a 16-year-old, with a 79.
His middle 12 holes actually amounted to two shots gained, the other six an utterly miserable 10-over, and in the second part of his in-depth interview with the Irish Independent McIlroy admitted that he might have prepared himself better for that 1st tee moment.
“That was the first time I felt it, ‘Jesus, this is huge!’ I was overwhelmed,” he said. “I was overwhelmed by the support. I looked up and just thought, ‘Holy shit!'”
During the interview he is read this quote from Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee: “This is nothing new what we saw out of Rory McIlroy. He has had, historically, a bad run of first rounds. When someone plays poor golf at the beginning of a tournament and then great golf the rest of the way, it’s not something physical. It’s not something technical. When someone consistently performs under expectations, the word is choking. We shy away from it, but now it’s five years [since he won a major].”
So, Rory, did you choke?
“I wouldn’t define that as choking,” he explained. “For me, choking is what happened at Augusta in 2011, or to Adam Scott at Lytham in 2012. It’s having a lead and blowing it, not getting off to bad starts.
“That’s more of a tentativeness or a fear. There’s definitely a bit of fear. The fear of failure. You’re trying not to make bogeys instead of trying to make birdies. It’s a very different mindset.
“If I’d had a few leads in majors that Brandel is talking about, and I wasn’t able to convert them, then I would agree with him. But in the five years since Valhalla, I wouldn’t say choked. I’ve underperformed, especially at the start of those tournaments, but I don’t think I’ve choked.”
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He had hit the 2-iron and a 3-wood in practice and on the Thursday morning he suggested a 4-iron to caddie Harry Diamond.
“I had played the 2-iron the week before in Scotland and wasn’t fully comfortable with it, but 4-iron wasn’t the right club. He said, ‘2-iron is not reaching the bunker – hit the 2-iron.’ And I said, ‘OK.’
“I knew it was the right club but I didn’t really want to hit it. That can often happen and what I’m trying to do is play with freedom, just stand up and try to make a good swing. But I put a bit too much right hand in it and it got going on the wind and just out of bounds.”