ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND | More vexing than Rory McIlroy’s propensity this year to play nine really bad holes on Friday at PGA Tour events – he shot 40 or higher in the second round five of six weeks – is his lack of love for links golf.
McIlroy was born and raised in Northern Ireland where he grew up playing proper links golf, though his home course, Holywood, is not a links. As a 17-year old, Rory’s legend was launched when he shot 61 at Royal Portrush where the ground game, the wind and the weather are intertwined.
Today at blustery Royal Aberdeen, McIlroy opened the Aberdeen Assets Scottish Open by shooting a 7-under par 64 that demonstrated his immense and often mesmerizing talent. Then he pronounced himself a fan of links golf, if only for a short time.
“It’s going to be my favorite style of golf two weeks a year,” McIlroy said with a smile.
He saw what Phil Mickelson did last year, winning the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart then backing it up with a victory in the Open Championship at Muirfield the next week. It’s part of what prompted McIlroy to add the trip to Royal Aberdeen to his schedule, imagining his own double-fisted trophy grab.
McIlroy’s game has the versatility to handle any type of course but it was still surprising when he said three years ago at Royal St. George’s that he doesn’t particularly care for bouncing shots into greens and flighting shots under the wind that seems to blow ceaselessly.
McIlroy said the weather dictates too much of the game in links golf and said there was no reason to change the way he plays for one week a year. The comments came just a month after he blew the U.S. Open field away at rain-softened Congressional Country Club, setting a U.S. Open scoring record in the process.
McIlroy is a bomber and he hits big, high shots, particularly off the tee. Tempering that style to fit the fickle nature of links golf is a challenge for sure but the game is about coping with various demands. Mickelson had only one good Open Championship before his breakthrough win last July.
Listening to McIlroy talk about his opening 64, he sounded both pleased and amused at how he did it. He couldn’t hide his smile when he was asked about driving the green on the 436-yard, par-4 13th hole. It played downhill and downwind, McIlroy acknowledged, but it was still an impressive poke that caused Ian Poulter, on the 13th green at the time, to take notice.
“I tried to make a par there but I managed to two-putt for a birdie,” McIlroy said.
What seemed to stoke McIlroy more than the drive were iron shots he hit on the front nine, an unforgiving stretch of holes that played directly into the stiff breeze on the gray, overcast day. Two 4-iron shots – including one that flew just 160 yards, 70 yards less than McIlroy’s stock 4-iron shot – and a 120-yard 8-iron had him smiling like a parent showing baby pictures.
Twice this year, McIlroy has opened PGA Tour events by shooting 63 but he didn’t win either time. He’s shot 74 or higher six times in the second round. But he also won the BMW Championship on the European Tour and he looks again like the McIlroy we watched two years ago.
Now he’s off to another fast start, this time on one of the world’s great links.
What’s not to love?