Date: November 29, 2013
Author: Peter Stone at Royal Sydney Golf Club

McIlroy rises to the challenge to set up a delicious scenario

Rory McIlroy departed the 18th green yesterday looking decidedly out of sorts with himself, indeed grumpy, but there were others in the Emirates Australian Open field at Royal Sydney who would have been delighted with a three-under 69. The thing is, he demands perfection of himself, and his idea of perfect is a stratosphere above many others in the world of golf. The 24-year-old Ulsterman, as a former world No 1, only relinquishing that lofty seat earlier this year when a slumbering Tiger awoke to win five PGA Tour events through the year, is the headline overseas player with a handsome appearance fee attached to his presence. Unlike others who ve come our way in the past who ve picked up quite juicy enticement cash, but treated down-under as a holiday, McIlroy wants to give value for money. He was extremely embarrassed, even ashamed of himself mid-year when, with a similar inducement to play plus the fact that he was playing in front of a crowd with similar accents to himself, he missed the cut in the Irish Open. He d stood on the first tee at Royal Sydney yesterday afternoon knowing that only his very best would have him within cooee of Adam Scott at day s end as the 2013 Masters Champion had, minutes before, signed for a course record 10-under 62. He d been the author of that exact same scenario at St Andrews in The Open Championship three years ago with a birdie blitz in benign conditions that yielded a 63, conditions that remained through the day for others to close the gap. Hence his dissatisfaction with a 69 that left him seven shots adrift of Scott. Today was different. He had the early tee time, and the rough weather, which was forecast, failed to materialise with only light drizzle and a just a zephyr of breeze. His was a seven under 65 with nine birdies and a couple of bogeys thrown in so, at 10-under through 36 holes, he was tied with Scott at the top of the leaderboard as the Queenslander walked from the practice putting up the hill to the first tee. Surely when Scott glanced across at the giant leaderboard at the 18th green he realised that it would be no walk in the park until Sunday evening to win our Triple Crown of golf to cap a magnificent year. Apart from The Masters, there was victory in The Barclays in the Fed-Ex Cup playoff series and the Grand Slam of Golf where the major winners of 2013, this year minus Open Champion Phil Mickelson who was replaced by Padraig Harrington, come together to pick up a further $US600,000 pocket money for the year. It would have been very easy for me to get frustrated yesterday, and I was a little frustrated, because I bogeyed 10 and 11 to go back to even par, and I m thinking to myself, I m 10 behind, not just 10 behind anyone, I m 10 behind Scotty, McIlroy said today. Then, a little of the champion he is, emerged and he birdied three of the last seven holes to salvage just a little ahead of today s second round. When you see someone like that at the top of the leaderboard already with a low score, it s tough not to think about it. It’s tough not to sort of press the issue but golf tournaments are long and there s lots of time to chip away. You saw me in 2010, it can evaporate very quickly, McIlroy said. What I didn t mention about The Open at St Andrews was that he shot 80 in the second round. Scott was never going to do that today. Yesterday the greens were pure when Scott played, but in the afternoon they became a touch slower and, well, a little rough. He three putted three times. Not today, even though the greens were slower as they d only been cut once and the fourth green not at all as a precaution against the fierce southerly that was expected to sweep across the Rose Bay layout. It wasn t a bad thing (the slower greens) as it means you can be a little more aggressive with your putts, McIlroy said. His rather slight stature belies the strength and power he has with the driver. Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 US Open Champion, is no slouch with the big stick and, paired with Oglivy and fellow Australian Matt Jones in the 36 holes, McIlroy was consistently hitting around 30-40 metres further with his driver. I m hitting the ball well off the tee and giving myself plenty of chances. It was good to see a few putts go in today. As I ve said for the last few weeks, the game is feeling much better and I m much more comfortable now, he said. Early in the year, in a score out of 10, he rated his game a two; mid-year five and right now he reckons it is an eight. Maybe Bo Derek is just around the corner. It’s the end of the season and I want to finish the season off well. It’s a big tournament for me so, in terms of satisfaction, going out there and shooting a good score and putting myself in position for the weekend, yeah, I m very happy, McIlroy said. After not making the Tour Championship in the States, it was all about trying to build momentum for 2014 and that s what I feel I ve started here. I think (my game) is just about in the same shape (as when he won his two majors) it’s all mental. When you get a run of events where you play well, your mindset going into tournaments is going under par, winning, getting onto the top of the leaderboard as soon as possible, and when you re not playing well, it s a bit different if you re not playing well it s a bit different, you re hoping to do well, but not really expecting to. McIlroy is making the perfect import to challenge Scott on his Green Jacket parade around this country and Golf Australia officials were walking around with the broadest of smiles as they gazed across the course at the masses who ve flocked to Royal Sydney. GA is seeking more financial assistance in growing the game of golf in Australia and, here at Royal Sydney, is evidence of the appeal of golf if this country has a champion that it now does, in the form of Adam Scott. For so many years, Australian golf rode on the back of Greg Norman, just as it rode on the sheep s back for decades in this country s economy, and now golf has a new and entirely genuine player to inspire a nation of golfers. I wrote in another place, well in the Sydney Morning Herald actually, two years ago that the crowds at The Lakes when Tiger Woods came visiting when the Open was played in tandem with the Presidents Cup were the biggest I ve seen in Sydney through all the years tournaments here since the 1969 Open at Royal Sydney. Well, these past couple of days, I d say the crowds are equal, if not marginally better, than those when Woods came visiting and, similarly, when the Shark was here at his very best. What a delicious scenario we have for the weekend a former world No 1, and now No 6, in the form of McIlroy and the world No 2 our Masters Champion who is now closing the gap on Wood s at the top of the rankings. McIlroy reckons he can shoot a couple more scores similar to today s and, apart from his return to form in a thus far winless year, he feels he is justifying however much was in the brown paper bag actually a deposit in his bank account when he came here. It’s very satisfying. Obviously when you come to a tournament where you re one of the (pause) headline acts or main attractions or what ever you call it, you want to live up to that billing I guess. For the most part of this year, I haven t wherever I went. So it s nice to reward the people that invite you down here and look after you so well. What they ultimately want is at the end of the week your name is up there challenging for the title. And, yes, there are some pretty handy names already engraved on the Stonehaven Cup Gene Sarazen, Jim Ferrier, Peter Thomson, Gary Player, Kel Nagle, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, David Graham, Greg Norman, Bill Rogers, Tom Watson, Mark Calcavecchia, Steve Elkington, Geoff Ogilvy and Adam Scott who are all, like McIlroy, major winners of golf.