Rory McIlroy speaks superbly on conscience call that cost him at US PGA
"I went from thinking I'm right on the cusp of getting into contention to just making the cut."
That, in a gnarly nutshell, is the story of Rory McIlroy and so many of his Major tilts since 2014. So much good but always one bad round out of four, or an implosion that comes out of nowhere.
On Friday, during his second round of the US PGA Championship at Harding Park, McIlroy recovered from an early glitch to card four birdies in a row and move to -3 with eight to play. At that stage he was five off the clubhouse leader, Haotong Li, and would have been aiming to pick up another shot or two down the stretch.
Instead, one bad approach shot on the par-4 12th hole led to a cascade of events that ended with the Northern Irishman three-putting for a triple bogey '7'. He was back to Even par and had given himself another mountain to climb. He eventually finished on -1 so a score in the low to mid 60s, on Saturday, would hopefully put him back in the hunt for his fifth Major and first since 2014.
Wipe that hole away and we would have been talking about how McIlroy was poised for a weekend charge. For all his undoubted class, however, that 12th hole catastrophe is not unusual. Sometimes the 31-year-old can't get out of his own way. Following his round of 69, McIlroy said:
"Once Tiger [Woods] and I got our tee shots off 18, I just gave him a look like, phew, glad that's almost done.
"It was tough out there. We all didn't really have our best. We were grinding just to be here for the weekend. But thankfully all three of us made it to the weekend and we all have an opportunity to go out tomorrow and post a low one and get ourselves back in the tournament."
Early in his round, McIlroy was at his incorruptible best after missing the green on his approach to the par-three third hole. His tee shot drifted to the right and into the thick stuff some 20 yards from the flag.
An on-course reporter, in the effort of trying to locate McIlroy's ball actually stepped on it and made his lie much, much worse. PGA Tour official Mark Dusbabek allowed the Holywood native to retrieve his ball and place it. McIlroy did so but felt the lie was too good. He explained that his ball would have rested lower in the grass, so placed it lower.
Dusbabek would have allowed the higher placing but it was McIlroy that insisted the lie was too favourable. He was, in essence, honest to a fault.
Class act: reporter accidentally stepped on @McIlroyRory’s ball in 3rd green search, official Mark Dusbabek allows him to place, Rory isn’t comfortable with the lie because it’s too good. Resets it lower in rough. Makes bogey. @PGAChampionship pic.twitter.com/C8xXOXFSmu
— Geoff Shackelford (@GeoffShac) August 7, 2020
McIlroy ended up chipping to within 20 feet of the hole and came within a whisker of making par but he walked to the tee-box for the fourth hole with a bogey on his card, and with the admiration of golfers the world over. He later explained:
"I just wouldn't have felt comfortable. I placed it, and the rule is try to replicate the lie. No one really knew what the lie was, but if everyone is going around looking for it, it obviously wasn't too good. So I placed it, I was like, 'That just doesn't look right to me'. So I just placed it down a little bit and sort of... yeah.
"You know, at the end of the day, golf is a game of integrity and I never try to get away with anything out there. I'd rather be on the wrong end of the rules rather than on the right end because as golfers, that's just what we believe.
"Yeah, I would have felt pretty wrong if I had of taken a lie that was maybe a little better than what it was previously."
It looked as though McIlroy was getting instant, positive karma with his streak of birdies around the turn. Then came the 12th and, with it, trouble that could ultimately end his latest Major quest in disappointment.