HAVING gone into the final two rounds in a seemingly ideal position, Rory McIlroy’s concentration levels let him down badly in the final 27 holes at the 3 Irish Open at Killarney.
This is by no means the first time he has faltered this year and obviously blocking one or two bad holes out of his mind will be crucial as his career develops. McIlroy also played himself into a good position after 36 holes of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May before falling away over the final two rounds, his body language all too clearly demonstrating his state of mind.
He also allowed the atrocious weather at St Andrews to get to him during the second round of the British Open. Having shot 63 in the first round, he took 17 more in the second and while he fought back superbly, the damage had been done. Very commendably, he shot seven under for the final 36 and finished third. But it could have been a whole lot better had he hung in there on the Friday and it was a point that he later accepted.
So, it was disappointing to hear him say after Saturday’s round of 76 that "now, I’m just looking forward to heading for Akron (for this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Championship)." Fans would have preferred a more positive attitude from a man who had received incredible support from the galleries and who still had 18 holes of his native Open to play.
His attitude was much the same yesterday after he completed the tournament with an even par 71 for a total of 282, just two under and a long way short of expectations.
"It hasn’t been the best weekend but I’m now looking forward to the next two weeks, they’re the most important," he said. "I feel as if I’m playing nicely, it’s just that my head wasn’t in it for the last 27 holes this week. I’ve got this big run coming up and I was looking ahead to that a bit more than I was this week if I’m honest with you. I couldn’t really get my head round here and get focused.
"I start every tournament trying to play nice and steady and play myself into contention. I did that the first two days after which I felt I could have been a couple better. With the good start on Saturday and not taking advantage of it on the front nine and giving away all those shots on the back nine, it was tough to come back. It’s especially the case at the Irish Open because you’re trying so hard not just for yourself but for everybody else.
"It felt very similar to the Irish Open last year. I don’t know what it is... whether it’s the extra pressure but I really find it very hard to get myself going. It’s definitely a tough week for us, especially with the two big weeks coming up; if it had been any other week, I would not have played."
McIlroy had no problems with the golf course, saying it was tricky rather than tough and that it was good to play a short layout for a change. He was also delighted with the atmosphere and would be happy to see the tournament return to Killarney.
He also realises that the searching questions asked by the Irish Open will have to be addressed if he is ever to capture a title that he said before the week began came only behind the majors in order of importance.
"I’m going to have to deal with this every year of my life," he accepted. "It’s not something I can get away from unless I don’t play. And I’ll definitely be playing. I think that’s why you haven’t seen so many Irish winners.
"It’s hard to win your national Open because you have the burden of expectation from everyone. You’re trying to live up to that and if it doesn’t quite come off, then you’re very hard on yourself and that reflects on your game. Pádraig has done it just once and Shane last year but before them there were very few."
With so many Irishmen battling it out at the top of the leaderboard, it was all the more surprising that McIlroy and his girlfriend Holly were already a long way north by the time the final putts were holed.