Reality stings for Rory McIlroy on Portrush homecoming

By Sports Desk July 18, 2019

In sport the greatest of dreams can instantly become the stuff of nightmares.

For Rory McIlroy, Thursday's Royal Portrush homecoming for the first round of The Open must have felt like that fabled dream where you're stood naked in front of a room of your peers, as his worst fears were laid bare in front of the world in a torrid round on the Dunluce links.

It simply wasn't supposed to be like this. It wasn't the narrative so many had expected or hoped for, even.

Addressing the media this week, McIlroy discussed how he did not feel like the centre of attention.

It was an admirable attempt at staying low key, but there was never any chance the focus of everyone's attentions at Portrush would not be on the four-time major winner.

Ever since he made a mockery of Portrush's reputation as one of the game's toughest links course as a 16-year-old with a startling course-record 61, McIlroy has been the man in these parts of the world.

But boy did Portrush have its revenge on Thursday and in the cruellest of fashions.

An almighty roar welcomed McIlroy onto the first tee as an expectant home crowd waited with bated breath to see what one of Northern Ireland's greatest sons would produce.

A spectator's broken phone as a result of McIlroy's opening wayward tee shot was a fitting metaphor for a round that fell to pieces from the off.

By the time he trudged off the opening green, having made an ugly quadruple eight, the smattering of almost apologetic applause told its own story. 

It was tough viewing as McIlroy scratched his way through the early holes. There was hope a recovery was on the way with birdies at the seventh and the ninth, and he went 12 holes without a bogey.

Yet, just like the showers that arrived at intermittent intervals, that hope proved brief as McIlroy three-putted inside five feet at the 16th – aptly named 'Calamity Corner' – before triple bogeying the last.

A clearly disappointed McIlroy put on a brave face and struck a determined tone, even allowing himself a little joke when asked if there was a way back to the cut mark from 79.

"Definitely a way back to Florida," he quipped. "I definitely think if I can put the ball in the fairway tomorrow I can shoot a good enough score to be around for the weekend. 

"Obviously I'm pretty sure anyone starting with a 79 in this golf tournament doesn't think about winning at this point. But I think I can go out there and shoot something in the mid-60s, be around for the weekend, and then try to play good from there."

Suggestions nerves due to the weight of expectation on his shoulders were a factor were quickly quashed by McIlroy.

"I don't think so. I was nervous on the first tee. But not nervous because of that. Nervous because it's an Open Championship," he added. 

"I usually get nervous on the first tee anyway, regardless of where it is. So maybe a little more so today than other places. But I don't think it was that. It was a bit of a tentative golf swing with a hard wind off to the right and the ball just got going left on me."

There is a sadly familiar pattern in golf's four biggest majors with McIlroy. He has 10 top-10 finishes since he won the last of his four majors at the 2014 US PGA Championship.

But there have not been many times he was genuinely in contention and this week – one of the most important McIlroy has had in his career – is surely now another lost cause.

Related items

  • Coetzee and Fox joint leaders at Le Golf National Coetzee and Fox joint leaders at Le Golf National

    George Coetzee and Ryan Fox top a congested leaderboard after the first round of the Open de France.

    Coetzee set the clubhouse target with a six-under 65 at Le Golf National on Thursday, with the South African's only bogey coming at the 17th.

    The four-time European Tour winner got under way with back-to-back birdies and reeled off another three in a row from the sixth to hit the turn in 31, then went on to sign for his lowest opening round of the season. 

    "It was almost perfect," Coetzee said. "I played really well. It's nice to be in the mix again. It's been kind of a hard, long year but it feels like the game is coming along nicely."

    Fox also went out in 31 following birdies at the first, fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth holes, as the New Zealander's solitary dropped shot came at 13.

    Benjamin Hebert, Kurt Kitayama and Richie Ramsay were just a shot off the lead after starting with five-under rounds of 66.

    Hebert's seventh gain of the day moved him into a share of second spot in his homeland, while there was just one bogey apiece for American Kitayama - third in the Italian Open last week - and Scot Ramsay.

    Victor Perez is among seven players another stroke back on home soil, along with Nicolas Colsaerts, but it was not a good day for defending champion Alex Noren.

    The Swede faces a battle to make the cut after carding a one-over 72.

  • Rugby World Cup 2019: The quarter-finals in Opta numbers Rugby World Cup 2019: The quarter-finals in Opta numbers

    The Rugby World Cup enters the knockout phase this weekend, with Ireland looking to finally reach a semi-final and Japan bidding to cause another upset.

    Joe Schmidt's team may have beaten two-time reigning champions New Zealand in two of their previous three meetings, but Ireland have a rotten record in World Cup quarter-finals.

    Hosts Japan face South Africa – the team they stunned in the pool stage four years ago – in their first World Cup quarter-final, while Wales meet France and England take on an Australia side they have an excellent recent record against.

    Here, we take a look at the Opta data for the four quarter-final clashes.

     

    England v Australia

    6 - England have dominated the Wallabies of late, winning each of their previous half a dozen meetings since Australian Eddie Jones was hired as head coach in 2015.

    7 - No player won more turnovers than Maro Itoje's seven in the pool stage and the England forward only featured in two of his team's three matches.

    29 - Jones' side averaged 29 kicks in play per game during the pool stage – the most of any team – while Australia, with 13, averaged the fewest.

    New Zealand v Ireland

    7 - Ireland are in their seventh World Cup quarter-final and have lost all of their previous six matches at this stage – the joint most last-eight losses, along with Scotland.

    17 - The All Blacks have won a record 17 consecutive World Cup games coming into this encounter – a run that dates back to a quarter-final defeat to France in 2007.

    29 - New Zealand have scored a try in each of their last 29 World Cup matches, last failing to do so in 2003.

    Wales v France

    8 - In the eight meetings between these two nations since Les Bleus beat Wales in the 2011 World Cup semi-finals, Warren Gatland's team have won seven times. Only the All Blacks have beaten France more often in that span (10 times).

    4 - Wales won all four of their pool-stage matches for the first time since 1987. They have never won five World Cup games in a row.

    6 - Since the start of 2018, France have lost six Tests in which they have been leading at half-time – the most such defeats of any side in that time. One of those came against Wales when they were 16 points ahead at the interval.

    Japan v South Africa

    3 - Japan's 34-32 victory over South Africa at the 2015 World Cup was their first over a Tier One nation. Since then they have won two of their three games against such opponents, beating Ireland and Scotland in this tournament.

    5 - Kotaro Matsushima is one of the leading try-scorers at this World Cup, along with Wales wing Josh Adams, having crossed five times.

    47 - The Springboks won 47 out of 47 lineouts on their own throw in the pool stage, the only side in the tournament to maintain a 100 per cent success rate.

  • Big Match Focus: Manchester United v Liverpool (Sunday 16:30 BST) Big Match Focus: Manchester United v Liverpool (Sunday 16:30 BST)

    Liverpool could equal an English top-flight record in grand fashion when their title assault takes them to a wounded Manchester United on Sunday.

    The Premier League leaders are sure to target three points knowing victory against their bitter rivals would be the perfect way to level Manchester City's benchmark of 18 consecutive wins at this level.

    Recent trips to Old Trafford have not been particularly profitable but the Red Devils, beaten 1-0 by Newcastle United last time out, look to be little more than a mid-table outfit at present.

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men will not have won a match inside 90 minutes for a month in all competitions by the time the game kicks off, and the expected absence of David de Gea presents a further hurdle.

     

    POTENTIAL BREAKTHROUGHS FOR KLOPP AND SALAH

    Liverpool have won five Premier League matches at Old Trafford but none under Jurgen Klopp.

    The German's three draws and single defeat in four attempts add up to his longest winless streak in away games against a Premier League opponent.

    He might never have a better opportunity to halt the trend.

    United are lurching from one bitter blow to another and have laboured in home games against Crystal Palace, Astana, Rochdale and Arsenal this season, losing to the Eagles.

    Those subpar showings, coupled with Liverpool's own outstanding form, will have Klopp's men supremely confident of delivering victory for their manager.

    But with the missed chance of last season's 0-0 draw still fresh in the memory, there will be pressure on the visitors to take the initiative in attack.

    Mohamed Salah, who is recovering from an ankle injury, will hope to be fit as he, like Klopp, has something to prove in this fixture.

    Though prolific since his arrival on Merseyside, the Egyptian has failed to either score or assist a single goal in each of his four Premier League appearances against United.

    HEAD-TO-HEAD: SCOTT MCTOMINAY V FABINHO

    Scott McTominay this week shared insights into his warm relationship with Jose Mourinho, and the Scotland international will hope to make his former manager proud in a key battle.

    His opposite number, Fabinho, provides just the kind of shield United's defence will need if Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are to be kept quiet.

    Liverpool's midfield anchor has won 12 tackles this term, five more than McTominay, at a success rate of 60 per cent.

    McTominay's tackle success rate, at 44 per cent, is less impressive and, while the 22-year-old has certainly been one of United's best performers this season, his numbers lag behind Fabinho's in several departments.

    The Brazilian has created three more scoring chances in 61 fewer minutes on the pitch and his passing accuracy of 87 per cent is comfortably superior to McTominay's 81 per cent.

    FORM GUIDE

    Liverpool's long Premier League winning streak dates back to March and includes away wins over Southampton, Burnley, Chelsea and Sheffield United this season.

    James Milner's last-gasp penalty kept the run alive in a hard-earned 2-1 triumph over Leicester City at Anfield before the international break.

    United, meanwhile, are searching for answers following a string of lacklustre performances since outmuscling Chelsea on the opening weekend.

    The four goals scored that day hinted at a bright future but United have failed to net more than once in any of their subsequent 10 matches in all competitions.

    HISTORY SAYS…

    Victory will not come easily for Liverpool, who have not travelled to Old Trafford while top of the table since October 1996.

    On that occasion, a David Beckham goal gave United a 1-0 win.

    Results more recently have been similarly close, with four of the past six Premier League meetings ending level.

    Liverpool, the heavy favourites, must snap a five-match winless streak in away games against United in order to preserve their perfect start in the league.

© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.