It must be close to impossible to book a room with a bad view along this scenic stretch of the so-called Causeway Coast but Rory McIlroy may have found it difficult to appreciate the panorama as he opened his curtains first thing yesterday morning.
A thick mist sat brooding over the neighbouring Inishowen Peninsula and, by the time the world number four began his round, the clouds had mustered overhead and a blustery downfall enveloped everyone and everything in a light coating of the wet stuff.
McIlroy had hoped for a more pleasing canvas on which to work. Not only for his hopes of shooting the mid-sixties round required to stave off the cut and scramble up the leaderboard, but for the spectators and a tournament hosted by his Rory Foundation.
Predicting the elements here can be, even by Irish standards, a lesson in futility. “I’ve heard every [type of] weather forecast so far this week,” said Pádraig Harrington after his opening round on Thursday. “I literally, honestly... I have heard everything.”
The consensus for the second round was more pronounced and even proved accurate enough for once, with the day clearing its lungs early and breathing easier as the afternoon progressed. Good news for the later starters, not so much for McIlroy who bowed out at half-time.
Truth be told, the early gloom was no bad thing.
McIlroy’s imprimatur clearly plays a major role in attracting some of the world’s best to this event, but the prospect of a primer on a links course two weeks before the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale is a carrot with its own allure.
Unpredictable lies and wild conditions should be welcomed here, not cursed.
There’s actually a lazy narrative that British and Irish players have some manner of innate advantage on such seaside adventures and it’s one the leading players from this island unwittingly propagate with their frequent declarations of fidelity for these classic courses.
Graeme McDowell has been happy to play up his schooldays popping down the road from Portrush to play here and McIlroy talked earlier this week about his own ‘links swing’ through various courses in England and Ireland in the run-up to the tournament.
“The golf course will give me an advantage,” Harrington declared confidently on Wednesday. “A links golf course, it suits my eye. Clearly I would like to think I’m second to nobody when it comes to managing my way around a links golf course.”
His rounds so far don’t hurt that claim, but nationality is no guarantor of success. This week’s leaderboard says so. Again. The likes of the American Daniel Im, with five years’ experience on the European Tour, and Jon Rahm are as au fait with the unique demands as anyone. The Spaniard has been at pains this week to point out that he is no alien to links courses or the attached conditions. He grew up playing golf all over Europe and he was quick with his response yesterday when asked what makes for a great links player.
“Many things. There’s so many different players. You’ve got Tom Watson and then to the other extreme you have Seve. That’s the beauty of links: it’s not one type of player. You can have no strategy and all feel and do well and then be a more methodical player and do well as well.”
Rahm is increasingly taking on the hue of a man for all seasons and tracks. A lumbering 6’ 2” giant with a drive ranked 14th for distance on the PGA Tour, he was of a mind to devour his fourth T-bone steak — cooked rare — in as many days last night, but there is much more to him than just the big, meaty hitter.
There was an almost effeminate skip as he ascended some of the dunes during his second round and the lightness of touch around some of the greens was exceptional at times during a second round 67 that delivered six birdies, an eagle and three bogeys.
He had already cut through the near-mystic guff about what it takes to prosper on links courses after his 65 on Wednesday when explaining that a good caddie, a dash of maturity and “knowing what kind of shot you have to hit” is as much as it takes.
All that and the ability to execute, obviously.
So, while McIlroy looked back ruefully on two days, saying he should have been able to card rounds in the sixties “standing on my head”, there were others from more distant shores and divergent golfing cultures who enjoyed a smoother passage.
“I don’t try to fight it,” said New Jersey native Im. I’m after adding a 67 made up of six birdies and just one bogey to the 64 recorded on Thursday. You know, if it’s windy just kind of go ride the wind and, you know, just don’t try to force it too much.”
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