McIlroy Feeling Around In The Dark

MARANA, ARIZONA | The darkness Rory McIlroy had raced a few minutes earlier had finally settled over the Golf Club at Dove Mountain last Thursday evening, deepening the chill outside as the world’s No. 1 golfer rolled a heavy travel bag out of a quiet locker room. “See you guys,” McIlroy said to a couple of people as he headed toward a car waiting to take him to the airport. McIlroy was one and done in the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, bumped out by his mate from Ireland, Shane Lowry, and his own flat play. That’s the precarious nature of match play, where good isn’t always good enough and lousy won’t always kill you. Tiger Woods was dismissed at almost the same moment as McIlroy in Thursday’s deep purple dusk, shoved out by Charles Howell III despite the fact Woods didn’t make a bogey and missed just one fairway. The top two seeds – and top two players in the world rankings – were literally gone before all the snow had melted around the quirky course that isn’t named on many favorites lists on Tour. In Woods’ case, he won his last start and Howell, a long-time friend of his, has been on a good roll this season. No alarms necessary. But for McIlroy, who missed the cut in his only previous start this season at Abu Dhabi, the sudden exit from Dove Mountain only intensifies the attention that will be on him when he tees it up this week in the Honda Classic, near his new South Florida home where there is no chance of a snowstorm. It’s not the start McIlroy nor Nike, his new equipment/clothing/advertising company envisioned when they made the splashy introduction in the Middle East last month. Both would prefer he work more weekends. No worries. Rory and his game will be just fine. And if you’re into equipment conspiracies, let it go. McIlroy could play with a shovel and a rake when he’s sharp. It wasn’t an equipment issue last summer when his game went on sabbatical for a few weeks before he came back and solved everything but the traffic problems in winning the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. “He hit a few ropey shots coming in,” Lowry said after his upset Thursday. “But, I mean, everybody hits bad shots at the end of the day. He’s only human.” There you go. Golf, as you know, is not a game of perfect even when you’re a 23-year old with two major championship trophies in your collection. Asked after his loss if he feels rusty, McIlroy paused then said, “Yeah, I do. It’ll be nice to play (Honda) and then Doral, as well.” He lapsed into a nasty habit of hanging his iron shots to the right at Dove Mountain, where what isn’t mowed is trouble. It’s a mechanical issue McIlroy plans to address, having fixed the driving problems that plagued him in his first start. Like old houses, there’s always something in need of work with a golf game, even one as sublime as McIlroy’s. McIlroy lives in a big world, one built on golf but not entirely defined by it. He hasn’t fought his celebrity which may explain how comfortable he seems with it. As he walked toward the first tee for his match against Lowry, a young woman asked, “How do you maintain your curls?” Had he heard, McIlroy could have told her the curls come naturally. That’s some of what comes in being who he is now. McIlroy travels the world with his tennis star girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, doing things a 23-year-old should be doing if they had the opportunities he has afforded himself. After Abu Dhabi, McIlroy spent some time in the French Alps with Wozniacki, then hung out in Monaco. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? “Doing this week in, week out, it gets a little bit too much at times, for me anyway,” McIlroy said of his profession. He went back to work on his game in Florida and that’s where he returned after Match Play to sharpen dull edges. McIlroy has been No. 1 in the world for 35 weeks, just over half as long as his girlfriend was No. 1 in the tennis world (67 weeks). “She says I’ve got a long way to go,” McIlroy said. Here’s how McIlroy is different: On Tuesday evening, hours before his first-round match, McIlroy and Lowry had dinner together with several other people. Woods and Howell have been buddies for years but there was no chance they were going to meet for dinner hours before they faced each other. Lowry and McIlroy have been friends for years and one 18-hole match wasn’t going to change that. “It’s only a game of golf. It’s not life or death. We weren’t going into battle,” Lowry said. Neither Lowry nor McIlroy had to pick up the check. Everyone threw in credit cards and, Lowry said, a couple of caddies lost in the blind draw to determine who ate the bill. In that way, McIlroy’s trip to Dove Mountain wasn’t a total loss.


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