ST. ANDREWS in Scotland — Rory McIlroyFor more than a decade, he has been trying to find the holy grail of golf at St. Andrews. He lost his way in a windstorm at The OpenHere in 2010. Because of an ankle injury he suffered playing soccer with friends, his mission in 2015 was canceled. His quest could have gone unfinished, or he could have gotten sidetracked between a rock wall and a hard spot. This attempt is going to work, unlike previous ones.
McIlroy now faces one of his biggest rounds in 54 holes.
But his main concern for the next 24hrs is to make sure that, even though hes in a remarkable space of his life, nothing changes. After finishing Saturday tied, his first concern was with Viktor HovlandFor the lead? Sunday morning, find something to do.
He woke up at 5 AM to see his Ireland rugby team beat New Zealand in a historic series.
He said, I was a little emotional when Ireland won. It was an amazing achievement for them.
After taking a break, he returned to the course 3 hours before his tee, did some work in the gym, and then ate lunch. He then went out to shoot. 6-under 66.
There is something special about this year, as he remains in the mix at St. Andrews in the 150th playing of the sports oldest major championship. This comes at a time when many outside LIV Golf have looked at McIlroy to be the sports voice.
McIlroy has been there before. McIlroy has been in the top five at least eight times since his last major win at Valhallas 2014 PGA Championship. He spoke out about missed opportunities, such as The Open in 2018 and The Masters. And again last year at The U.S. Open. He is tired of being the almost man. The key to changing that is to stay true to his processes.
He said, It makes my play better. I got out of my current process by going all the way back to Augusta, 2011. It was a hard lesson that I learned. It was a very difficult pill to swallow.
And I went… [the U.S. Open at]I was focusing on Congressional all week. It was what I called my little cocoon. I tried to stay there for the entire week. This is what I have been doing this week.
At St. Andrews, he has kept his emotions in check as much as possible — aside from the odd fist pump and chest-bump-awkward-hug with his caddie. He took Saturday to take a look at the windows in a nearby hotel because he knew his loved ones would be there.
He said, I try to acknowledge as many as I can, however, Im just trying stay in my process and stay inside my own bubble, and I just need to do that for one day.
The cocoon refers to the protection of patience, process, and pragmatism.
He said, Im trying play with discipline. Im trying play the percentages.
But dont mistake pragmatism as lacking drama. Saturday was a great day for pragmatism. He seemed to have St. Andrews whole attention wherever he went.
He was 10 under through 36 holes, 3 shots behind the lead. He planned to minimize danger for Saturday. All was well after he went out at 3-under 33. He reached the 10th. The hole is named after Bobby Jones. He was the one who established St. Andrews importance in the world of golf. He said that if a player wants to be fulfilled, they must win The Open here. This led to McIlroys earlier holy grail” comment earlier in the week. He fell into the trap of the Old Course as he drove down the fairway 334 yards.
This bunker, located just off the 10th green, is the least well-known of the 112 available. However, its still a dangerous one to watch as a player flies around the course. McIlroy was patient and backed off twice. He navigated the course through the claustrophobia. Cameron YoungAnd Cameron SmithBoth tee off from the ninth. McIlroy stormed to the front of green on the third approach, when the crowd ceased to be a hubbub. It was rolled into a hole for an eagle, triggering a roar unlike anything else weve heard this past week.
This was the big moment at the box office, but there were other important shots in this round, the ones that may not be on the highlight reel, but are crucial to major charges. McIlroy stated that he was trying make the fiddly side of golf his forte after his first round. He needed to show all manner of golfing contortion to keep the round moving in the right direction.
The 11th was the first, with his 10-foot putt to save Par, which earned him a fist pump. The 15th was where his drive proved to be the most difficult. His approach was successful and he managed to get to the green with a 49-foot putt, leaving him at par 5 feet.
He managed to avoid the Road Hole Bunker on the 17th. But, his second shot ended up just a foot away from the wall to the left of the green. He was able to escape with bogey. However, it could have been much worse and the dent on his green far more.
McIlroy arrived at St. Andrews as the favorite to win the Claret Jug. He had won two PGA titles this past year, at both the CJ Cup (and the Canadian Open). McIlroys title chances were only one of the many narratives here. Few stories are more important than that. Tiger Woods. Woods and McIlroy became close friends. Before they arrived at St. Andrews, McIlroy and Woods played Ballybunion together in Ireland. McIlroy earlier in the week stated that he was expecting Woods to play the full four days. McIlroy, who was waiting on the first hole to see the 45th grouping, saw the 19th group walk up the 18th. Justin ThomasMcIlroy was waiting with a group of people behind him when he teed off. Thomas was also there. Thomas is another great friend to Woods. The old master held it together until he glanced over and saw his two companions tilting their heads in his direction.
This moment could grow in importance over the years, becoming a serendipitous occasion when two careers intersect — one taking on the responsibility of driving the sport forward. McIlroy did not let the emotion of that moment pass him by for more than a millisecond.
He said, It was cool being on that fairway when this was happening. But I was concentrating my start to the round.
It was back on the job.
Sunday is his chance to finally end the eight-year wait for a McIlroy major. He isnt drawing from his mistakes in the past, but instead he is playing until he runs out. McIlroy has some positive signs. This is the sixth consecutive major in which he holds the lead after 54 holes. He won four of the five instances before this one. This is his first major lead after 54 holes, since 2014s victory at Valhalla.
He stated, I dont take anything for granted. I don’t feel like I can go back in any type of experience.
Just like being there before and Ive done that. But you cant get everything you want. I have to work hard to earn it, just as Ive earned everything else in this career.
It has been 32 year since The Open had a British champion at St. Andrews. Nick FaldoIn 1990, he won. Five years after Faldos win, Woods made his Open debut at this venue and won in 2000 as well as 2005. McIlroys career-affirming chance is this years championship.
McIlroy would be granted peace, but it would also grant McIlroy security.
He didnt take off his cap as he walked across the Swilcan Bridge Saturday. It was not time to celebrate. He has not yet been able to use one of his hands to the Claret Jug. He wont think of anything else until he is there in the middle Sunday of the 18th lifting up his Holy Grail.