More specifically, the K Club presented the type of opportunity to its host this week, Rory McIlroy, that Royal County Down last year did not, in that the K Club layout seriously favours a power game, and never was this demonstrated more than by McIlroy yesterday.
Those who started early yesterday will moan about the rain and the wrong side of the draw but the show goes on and you simply have to play what is in front of you and if Martin Kaymer’s early round score of 69 was very impressive, his was only a precursor to the afternoon’s fireworks where Danny Willet earned the plaudits but McIlroy impressed most, with his calm assured performance.
From the word go yesterday, it was obvious that there was something a little different with McIlroy. Whether it was his steely glare on the opening tee box or his obvious determination to compartmentalise the many pressures he would have faced as host of a tournament he rates highly but has performed abysmally in, he looked reassured from the off, playing with a level of conviction that suggested that he was there not just to make up the numbers but to win.
Over the past couple of years McIlroy has found the going tough, most especially when it has come to winning with anywhere near the regularity that everyone feels he is capable of. As a result, it has led to much conjecture about his game, his focus and his mental strength but are we being too harsh on him? He certainly feels so but when he can comfortably shoot scores like yesterday’s 67 or so effortlessly destroy the famously difficult TPC course in Sawgrass, as he did last week, then questions should quite rightly be asked as to why he can’t put these types of rounds together more consistently or more often? Does he have to wait until his back is up against the wall and his anger or frustration is at a level where his determination to shoot a good score overrides any technical imperfections in his game? Sorry Rory, these questions come with the territory of being one of the world’s best golfers.
Most people highlight his putting and that is a concern, most especially his ability yesterday to consistently read the pace and borrow of the greens but as poor as it was, his steely focus kept him competitive and McIlroy can now move onto today’s round armed with the knowledge that the course is there for the taking if and when he gets his “eye in” on the putting greens.
Danny Willet yesterday showed the type of resilience required to win major championships. Despite not hitting the ball with anyway near the same purity as McIlroy, he held firm when the ride got a little bumpy early on, before gradually fighting his way back into his round to prove once again that golf is not a game of perfect but simply a sum of parts, when using his excellent short game skills to extract the best possible result, a wonderful round of 65.
As is most usually the way with great golf courses, the “cream” has already risen to the top of this year’s Irish Open after round one and I see no reason for that to change over the coming days. Many are already within striking distance of the leaders but if yesterday is anything to go by, McIlroy and Willet have already proven that they are unlikely to cede much ground before Sunday, so the pressure is most assuredly on.
The K Club, with its intricate design of slight dog-legs, carefully placed bunkers and swirling winds, has already proven itself a deceptively challenging but worthy venue. No one should doubt either that it will keep challenging the players right to the very end but shouldn’t that always be the case when you are trying to win a championship as prestigious as the Irish Open?