Many years ago Jack Nicklaus began a tour event in America with a couple of miserable double bogeys. His playing partner – whose name long ago escaped me – told the story of Jack walking onto the 3rd tee and saying, ‘I’ll probably lose this thing by a shot now’.
Most players would already be making Friday night plane reservations in expectation of missing the cut but Nicklaus knew his awesome skills could make up for the silly mistakes made early in the week.
So it was for Adam Scott at The Australian this Thursday when he stumbled his way to the turn in forty blows, a score worse than normal because the par is only 35.
Miserable days ask players to grind out a score decent enough from which to recover in the morning and Scott managed a couple of back nine birdies and seven pars to scrape out a 74. It wasn’t good by his elevated standards and it was far from the 62 he opened with a year ago at Royal Sydney. Nor need it be a disaster but he will need to play a round equal in quality to his Friday 67 last week at Metropolitan to stay in touch with those ahead.
Rory McIlroy was out early in conditions perhaps a little more difficult than Scott and leader Jordan Spieth (67) found together in the afternoon. The Northern Irishman missed a few putts he might have holes early in the round but he was terrific on the holes after the turn.
He did make a clumsy bogey at the 7th when he pulled a simple looking pitch into the water guarded green and made a mess of the chip from the edge.
Those silly mistakes are annoying but he hammered a drive down the 8th and flew a short iron at the flag, making an easy four on the most difficult par four on the course. He followed another great drive down the 9th with a beautiful nine iron, which spun, to a stop three feet under the hole.
Every generation produces players worthy of properly watching and studying how they play golf. The best by some way in my time was Severiano Ballesteros and it will take something extraordinary to eclipse the Spaniard but McIlroy is brilliant to watch play golf. He drives the ball incredibly straight and further than any great player ever has. Of course the equipment has utterly changed the distance equation and there can be no question Nicklaus would be driving close to 340 yards with regularity in this era.
Nicklaus swung away very wide on the backswing and teachers will tell you it is a method not conducive to great short iron play. Greg Norman too employed a similar technique and both were less than great wedge players. McIlroy is blessed with not only an incredible powerful swing with his longest clubs but his short irons, the pulled wedge into the 7th aside, are beautifully controlled. The 1955 Masters Champion Jackie Burke once said to Lanny Wadkins, the fine American player, ‘All you need to do Lanny is remember to take your clubs to the course and to always take a different route to the bank.’
The game is never so easy, as Adam Scott’s front nine showed us today but on what has been a miserable day for Australian sport McIlroy’s golf brings us some small measure of joy.
Oh and as it turns out Nicklaus did lose by a shot…