McIlroy is form man of Irish quartet

RORY McILROY shot a remarkable 23 birdies, eight of them in a final round of 68, and an eagle, but four players still finished ahead of him in the Memorial tournament at Muirfield Village on Sunday.

Ten bogeys and a couple of double bogeys negated much of the young Irishman’s brilliance. In spite of such a good finish in a high-class field, he has slipped one spot in the latest world rankings from sixth to seventh.

Nevertheless, of the quartet of Irishman heading for the second major of the season, the US Open starting at Congressional Country Club on Thursday week, McIlroy is definitely the one in form. Defending champion Graeme McDowell (who has dropped from sixth to eighth in the rankings) relinquished his grip on the Wales Open after a shocking third round of 81 on Saturday, Shane Lowry missed the cut and Pádraig Harrington has been confined to the sidelines over the past few weeks because of a leg injury.

Harrington’s situation is all the more interesting in that he has fallen outside the world’s top 50. Yesterday’s results saw him in 51st spot and with a lot to occupy his mind as he approaches his 40th birthday with his game, despite his belief to the contrary, in apparent disarray.

However, few players have greater mental fortitude or a more positive mindset to rectify the situation and Harrington is confident he can redress the imbalance on his return to action in the St Jude Classic beginning over the TPC Southwind course in Memphis on Thursday.

It hasn’t been all bad news for Harrington who did manage two top ten finishes in the States but he then missed the cut in the two tournaments immediately following those promising performances.

He clearly needs a confidence booster but it won’t be provided by his performance in Memphis 12 months ago.

Everything looked to be going smoothly after an opening 65 but after that he went 74, 71 and 73 to tie for 56th on three over par and 13 shots behind the winner Lee Westwood. It was the last thing he needed in the week before the US Open Championship and even though he went on to finish in a respectable share of 22nd at Pebble Beach, it’s not the kind of result that satisfies a player of Harrington’s stature.

Lee Westwood defends in Memphis where the current world number two pulled off the unlikeliest of victories last year. He only made it into a three-man play-off when the American Robert Garrigus ran up a triple bogey seven at the 72nd hole. The Englishman finally prevailed over Sweden’s Robert Karlsson at the fourth extra hole and could get a similar outcome as he chases that elusive first major title at Congressional a week later.

Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell is spending much of this week back in his native Portrush having so uncharacteristically thrown away a golden opportunity of retaining his Wales Open title at Celtic Manor.

Rory McIlroy is in Haiti for the next couple of days in his role as a UNICEF ambassador, following in the footsteps of another illustrious Irish sportsman, Donncha O’Callaghan, who also helped the survivors of the appalling earthquake a couple of years ago.

McIlroy will enjoy his time on the island while in his spare moments reflect on what might have been in the Memorial tournament and what it means for his challenge at Congressional.

“If anything, it’s about strategy more than anything else,” he mused after his fifth place and banking a cheque for $248,000 (€171,176).

“If you’re going to miss shots, miss them in the right places and that’s something I need to address. But I felt I played really well at Muirfield Village except I made too many mistakes that cost me.’’

After his final day heroics in the PGA Championship at Wentworth, it was disappointing that Shane Lowry should have missed the cut by one stroke at Celtic Manor.

The Italian Open starting at the Roveri club in Turin on Thursday is the major event in Europe this week. All eyes will be on the brilliant 18-year-old Matteo Manassero as he bids to keep the title at home while the direct Irish interest is served by Darren Clarke, Damien McGrane and Paul McGinley.

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