Rory McIlroy may be the tournament host but he will do all he can to avoid being merely part of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open presentation party on Sunday evening.
The world No. 1 will tee off for his second round at Royal Co Down this afternoon determined to make amends for a disastrous opening nine-over-par 80 yesterday morning, shot in the worst conditions of the day.
McIlroy, 26, needs a low score today to any have any hope of avoiding the cut for a second week in succession, and a third Irish Open on the trot.
A birdie-free nine-over round was not part of the script for the four-time Major champion this week having been credited for raising the Irish Open to another level by bringing on board a new title sponsor and attracting the European Tour event’s strongest field in years.
His Rory Foundation, which supports children’s charities including the local Cancer Fund For Children, is the official charity of the tournament and McIlroy pledged to donate his Irish Open prize money to the cause.
If the fund is to receive anything this weekend, McIlroy will have to get his act together today and the world number one said he felt a duty to do better for his foundation and the 20,000 supporters who had made yesterday’s first-day attendance a sell-out.
“It’s disappointing in that way. I want to go out there and play well, not just for myself but for a lot of other people,” McIlroy said.
“I just need to pick myself back up and get out there tomorrow and try and shoot a good one. I’m not sure what I’m going to need to make it into the weekend, but obviously I would love to be here for that. So I’ve just got to get out there and play a bit better.
“My goal starting off tomorrow is to try and make some birdies, make my first birdie of the tournament at some point and try and just claw my way back up towards the cut line and see what I can do.”
McIlroy had been mentally fatigued at Wentworth last week — a second-round 78 saw him miss the cut at the BMW PGA Championship — after a three-week spell in the USA that reaped two tournament wins to cement his position as the world’s best golfer.
But he arrived at Royal County Down declaring himself refreshed after an unscheduled weekend off.
However, in the teeth of 30mph winds and sporadic downpours yesterday, McIlroy looked every bit the exhausted golfer again as he carded four bogeys in a row to end his first nine having teed off at the 10th. Out in five-over 41, the Holywood golfer could not arrest the slide; four more bogeys following at the fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth.
“It’s tough,” McIlroy said of the conditions, before adding: “It’s not quite as tough as I made it look out there.
“You’ve just got to put your ball in the right position. I felt like off the tee it was fine. It’s just if you start to miss greens, you can make it very difficult for yourself. So just missed it in the wrong spots, and struggled from there.
“I really put myself behind the eight-ball today because the back nine is the more scorable nine here, and to go out there and shoot five-over on that nine, you know, I couldn’t really do much on the front nine, the front nine was playing so tough.
“I’ll try and shoot a decent front-nine tomorrow, and there’s a few birdie chances on the back nine to hopefully try and make it for the weekend.”
Graeme McDowell had teed off a group ahead of McIlroy, shooting a solid one-over 72, but he said his friend’s hosting duties gave him a valid excuse for under-performance.
“With Rory’s level of responsibilities this week, he can be let off the hook for maybe not having his 110% total focus,” McDowell said. “It’s been a hard undertaking, and we thank him because he’s really elevated this tournament. I’m sure he’ll be back tomorrow and give it a good rip, but it was tough out there.”
McIlroy said he would need to mentally regroup for today’s second round but denied he had been trying too hard during his first round.
“If anything, it was almost, I don’t want to say the other way. It’s my fifth week in a row, and I’m not saying I felt flat out there, but just sort of trying to muster something up to get myself going and get some sort of momentum was sort of difficult.
“You know what to expect when you come to an Irish Open, and I’ve said for the last couple of years I want to try and embrace it and relish the fact that you’re here and everyone wants to see you do well. I just haven’t been able to do that as of yet.
“I just didn’t play good enough today. I played well off the tee, and I felt like I drove the ball pretty well. But the closer I got to the green, the worse I got.”
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