Rory McIlroy refused to blame his responsibilities as tournament host at Royal County Down as he crashed out of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
The world No.1, who strived tirelessly to raise his national Open to a higher level by attracting a stellar field and bringing on board a title sponsor for the tournament for the first time in five years, had arrived at Royal County Down on the back of missed cut at the BMW PGA Championship last Friday but despite mental fatigue, had thrown himself into his duties as de facto host on behalf of his Rory Foundation.
Colleagues such as Graeme McDowell and Pádraig Harrington suggested those responsibilities had contributed to an opening round, nine-over-par 80 on Thursday for McIlroy, 26, but the four-time major champion was having none of that yesterday as a level-par second-round 71 failed to lift him high enough up the leaderboard to make the halfway cut.
Fatigued, certainly, after playing a fifth tournament in successive weeks, the first three of which yielded two victories in the US, in the WGC-Cadillac Match Play and the Wells Fargo Championship. And out of his comfort zone also, despite the proximity to his childhood home in Holywood and his knowledge of this renowned links, as Royal County Down was beset by repeated heavy showers and buffeted by winds in several directions.
Hosting, though, had not been the problem and McIlroy said: “It’s not as difficult as you might think. It hasn’t been that bad. I’m definitely not using that as an excuse.
“I mean, if anything, I just think it’s fallen at a pretty bad time in the schedule, with it being the fifth tournament in a row for me.
“In an ideal world, I would have came in here with a little bit of a different preparation I guess. But that’s the way it is, and I still played very well up until this point this year. I’m just going to enjoy these couple weeks off I have now, and get ready to go for the next major of the year at the US Open.”
This was McIlroy’s third successive missed cut at an Irish Open after similar disappointments at Carton House in 2013 and Fota Island last June, which followed immediately after the 2014 US Open at Pinehurst.
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With McIlroy’s attention moving swiftly towards trying to repeat his 2011 US Open win in three weeks at Chambers Bay near Seattle, probably the last thing McIlroy needed was to hang around at a tournament he was no longer involved in. And yet he is still involved as host.
Asked what he would do now this weekend, the world No.1 said: “Not too sure. Won’t be playing golf, that’s for sure. Don’t know.
“I’ll probably be hanging around here. Might have to show my face to a couple things. Might see me on the 18th green on Sunday. But apart from that, just try to sort of get away from it a little bit and sort of refresh and get ready to go for the US Open.
“I’m very disappointed. It’s one of the tournaments of the year that I really earmarked that I wanted to try and do well in.
“It’s my third year in a row where all of the people out there supporting me won’t be able to watch me over the last couple of days. But yeah, it’s tough.
“It’s a tough golf course as it is, and then I wasn’t quite in control of what I was trying to do yesterday. Even though I felt like I played a bit better today, I left myself with too much to do after what happened yesterday.”
The wet and windy conditions undoubtedly played a part although having won The Open Championship at Hoylake last summer, those question marks over his ability to combat a tough day of links golf appeared to have been answered.
Yet McIlroy’s Wells Fargo Championship third-round 61 in the sunshine around Quail Hollow on the way to a 21-under total seemed a long way in the past rather than just a fortnight ago.
“It’s golf,” he said, “but Quail Hollow, the conditions, that’s my game. That’s what I do best. And you give me this golf course in those conditions I had at Quail Hollow, it would be a much different story.”
There was at least one box ticked yesterday in his native Ulster. McIlroy finally managed a couple of birdies he had sorely missed on the opening day, at the seventh and 12th holes. Not that they eased his disappointment.
When asked what positives he would take from this week, he replied: “About my golf game? Probably none. About everything else that we’ve done? There’s obviously loads of positives.
“The Irish Open is now... look at all this. The Irish Open is back to what it should be, and all the work that we’ve done with the foundation and all the people that we’re helping because of that, so there’s loads of positives in that sense.
“But my golf game, not so much.”
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