Watching Rory McIlroy decimate course and field at the Canadian Open for his 16th Tour win left many golf watchers of a mind with the US golf writer who quizzed him Sunday in Hamilton on the apparent inconsistency in his game. Missed cut at the Memorial one week, Sunday stroll in Canada the next?
“I think that’s the thing that people don’t quite understand with golf at this level,” mused McIlroy after a final-round 61 that could even have been a couple of shots better.
“The margins are just so fine and so small. Last week at Memorial, if I made a couple extra birdies on the back nine Friday, I would’ve made the cut and could have produced a weekend like this and won the tournament. You never know. The margins are so small.
“That’s why I never try to get too carried away when I’m playing good and I never get too carried away when I’m playing badly. Both of those instances are not far away from each other. I think something like this is always around the corner and something like what happened last week, a missed cut, is always around the corner, too.
“I feel my consistency this year has been great. I’ve played in 12 or 13 events. This is obviously a win, but it’s another top 10, and basically I’ve been in the top 10 most weeks I’ve played. I’ve been consistent. Obviously, last week to this week is a bit of an outlier. I think in golf it’s just never that far away.”
Call it the zone, call it the flow. Call it, as one golf writer did yesterday Freddie Couples syndrome: The state where it all looks just too damn easy for McIlroy, that sense that he can swing freely and nothing bad will happen.
I just played with a little more freedom [here]. I was a little more aggressive. That was really it. That confidence just came from my range sessions last weekend going into this week, and the shots I was hitting on the course. My confidence just grew all week.
"That freedom just to swing away and be committed to what I was doing, that’s really the difference between being in a final group and walking away with the trophy or not.
“I think when you play, you get into stretches like this, you do get into some sort of flow, that flow state or in the zone or whatever anyone wants to call it. I definitely got into that a little bit today at the start of the back nine.
"It’s almost like you’re out of your own body and looking at yourself play. At some stages [on Sunday], that’s how it felt, so if I could bottle that feeling and take it with me week to week, I would. Sort of comes and goes.”
McIlroy added the Canadian Open to his schedule for the first time largely because it was moved to the weekbefore the US Open.
He turned the major tune-up into acareer highlight, becoming the sixth player to win national championships in the US, Britain, and Canada. Lee Trevino (1971) and Tiger Woods (2000) are the only players to win all three in the same season, somethingMcIlroy could do this year with victories at Pebble Beach and at Royal Portrush inJuly.
It was McIlroy’s fifth win in a national open, following the US Open (2011), Australian Open (2013), British Open (2014), and Irish Open (2016). McIlroy also counts the Hong Kong Open (2011) as part of his national championship tally.
He added: “When you get to the US Open set-up, it can make you play careful, a little tentative and try to guide it down the fairways, but if I’ve learned anything this week, it’s my game is good enough and swing is good enough that I can play with freedom. I’m not going to go and hit driver on every hole, but when I pull a club out of the bag, I’ll make a really good, committed swing and know for most part it should work out for me.”
The only question on the back nine on Sunday was whether McIlroy would shoot the 11th sub-60 round in PGA Tour history. He made four straight birdies from the 11th to 14th, and a bogey on the par-3 16th stalled him only momentarily.
He followed with a 7-iron from 196 yards to three feet for eagle on thepar-5 17th to get to 10 under at par-70 Hamilton Golf and Country Club, but he missed the green on the par-4 18th and his bunker shot went long. He ended up tapping in for bogey to finish at a tournament-record 22-under 258. The 61 equalled the low round of McIlroy’s PGA Tour career.
“What I’m proudest of is still playing with that freedom going out being tied for the lead. Just putting my foot down and really making this tournament mine,” McIlroy said.
I think by the time I got to the 14th tee I wasn’t really thinking of winning the tournament. I was thinking oftrying to shoot 59. I had to reassess my goals a little bit in the middle of that back nine.
Indeed, he had enough time to check the boards to confirm that his compatriot Graeme McDowell had done enough to book a spot in the Open Championship at his home course.
“I was looking at the leaderboard all day. Mostly for making sure that G-Mac was in. It just would’ve been such a shame if the Open comes to Portrush and the hometown boy couldn’t play, said McIlroy. So I am proud and excited for him. I know it’s something he’s wanted for a while.”
GMac had to hole a hard-breaking 30-footer for par on the par-4 18th to shoot 68 and finish in a tie for eighth.
“It had 12 feet of break on it. It was a ridiculously tough putt,” said McDowell. “Just fancied it, I saw it, liked the way it looked, and when I saw it go in, it was a huge relief.
“It’s like chasing a ghost out there when you’re trying to play for these spots, because you don’t know whether fifth is going to be enough and you’re thinking 10th might be enough,” said McDowell.
“You’re out there playing for a lot of FedEx Cup points and a lot of cash, and all I canfocus on is trying to get exempt for the OpenChampionship. I might go to Portrush and miss the cut and think: ‘What was that all about?’”