Street. Andrews, Scotland – Rory McIlroy He’s been chasing the Holy Grail of golf in St Andrews for more than a decade. He got lost in the wind at The Open here in 2010. His stint failed in 2015 before it even started due to an ankle injury he sustained while playing football with friends. This time his quest could have been lost in the sand, or veered off course between a rock and a hard place. But unlike previous attempts, this one will be planned.
Now, after 54 holes, McIlroy is facing one of the biggest rounds of his life.
But the focus for the next 24 hours is to make sure that despite being in a wonderful space in his life, nothing will change. Draw his first concern after finishing on Saturday with Victor Hovland On the lead? Find something to do on Sunday morning.
On Saturday, get up early to watch the Irish rugby team achieve a historic victory over New Zealand.
“I was a little touched when Ireland won, actually,” he said. It was an incredible achievement for them.”
Then he took a nap, attended the course three hours before his tee time, did some work at the gym, and had some lunch. Then he went out and shot a 6-under 66.
There is something about this year as he remains firmly in the mix at St Andrews, in the 150th tournament playing the sport’s oldest major tournament, while McIlroy was seen outside of LIV Golf as the voice of the sporting mind.
We’ve been here before with McIlroy. Since his last big win at the 2014 PGA Championship in Valhalla, he has secured the top five eight times. He himself this week pointed to missed opportunities – such as the Masters and the Open in 2018, and again last year at the US Open. He is bored of being almost a man, and the key to change remains true to his operations.
“It makes me play better,” he said. “Coming back to Augusta in 2011, I got off work. I got out of what I did for three days and it was a hard lesson. It was really hard to swallow a pill.
“And I went to [the U.S. Open at] Congress, and that’s all I’ve focused on all week. I kind of called it my little cocoon, just trying to stay in my little cocoon all week. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do this week as well.”
In St. Andrews, he kept his emotions in check as much as possible–apart from the strange fist pump and awkward chest hugs with the can. On Saturday, he allowed himself a moment to look out the windows of a nearby hotel where he knew his family would be watching.
“I try to confess as much as I can, but I just try to stay in my business, stay in my little bubbles, and have to do it for another day,” he said.
That “cocoon” is the protection of practicality, patience and pragmatism.
“I try to play with discipline,” he said. “I’m trying to play percentages.”
But don’t mistake pragmatism for a minute for the lack of drama – the man was the equalizer on Saturday. Wherever he went, he felt like the entirety of St. Andrews hung on every stroke, chip, or fist.
Having been 10 under 36 holes – 3 shots off the lead – he planned to “reduce the risk” ahead of Saturday. After coming out at the age of 3 to 33, all was well. Then approach the tenth. The hole is aptly named for Bobby Jones. He’s the man who sowed the seed of St Andrews’ importance in the golf world, saying if a player really wants to achieve he needs to win the Open Championship here – leading to McIlroy’s “Holy Grail” suspension earlier in the week. But when he shot a 334-yard motor down the trail, he fell right into the old track trap.
Of the 112 bunkers here, this one off the 10th green is less well known, but nevertheless, when you watch a player fly around the track, you fear that the slightest mistake will make you nose-drenched. But McIlroy’s patient twice retracted the shot while navigating the claustrophobic course with Cameron Young And the Cameron Smith Both depart from the neighboring ninth. On the third approach and the third time the crowd fell into silence, McIlroy sprinted to the front of the green and rolled into the hole in search of an eagle, making a roar that rivaled anything we’ve heard this week.
That was a box office moment, but throughout this tour there were equally important shots, genres that may not be a distinct reel but are the building blocks of major shipments. McIlroy said after his first round that he was trying to make the “sad” side of the sport his “home” this week – and needed to produce all sorts of golf twists and nuances to keep this round moving in the right direction.
It was his first in the eleventh with his tough 10-foot-tall shot to save on par, which received a fist pump as well. There was the fifteenth, where his leadership found the worst of the storm. Somehow, his approach found the green, and his 49-foot-5 shot left him equal.
He managed to avoid the infamous Road Hole on 17, but found himself between a rock and a tricky spot as his second shot ended a foot or so off the wall above the right of the green. He escaped with a ghost, although it could have been much worse, and the breakdown on his tour was much greater.
McIlroy came to St Andrews as the Claret Jug favorite, having won two PGA titles this year, the CJ Cup and the Canadian Open. But his chances of getting the title were one of several here, with few being greater than tiger wood. Woods and McIlroy grew to be close friends. Before arriving at St Andrews, the two played Ballybunion in Ireland. McIlroy said earlier in the week that he was expecting to see Woods play four full days here. Instead, as McIlroy waited for the first hole as part of the 45th rally on Friday, he saw the 19th rally go on the 18th. Justin Thomas, in the group behind McIlroy waiting to launch, was there, too. Thomas is another great friend of Woods. The old master could tie them together until he looked and saw his two companions tipping their hats in his direction.
This moment may grow in importance over the next few years, becoming that serendipitous case when two careers intersect – one with the responsibility to move the sport forward. But McIlroy let the emotion of that moment reeling through him for a split second.
“It was great to be in that way when that was happening,” he said. “But I was focusing on my beginnings for the tour.”
He’s back at the job at hand.
Sunday offers him a chance to end his eight-year wait for another major McIlroy. But he does not rely on experience in that he once erred when he was in the mix; Instead, he plays golf until he runs out of holes. There are positive signs for McIlroy. This is the sixth time he has taken the lead after 54 holes in a discipline. Of the previous five cases, he won four of them. This is the first time he has driven a major after 54 holes since 2014 and this victory in Valhalla.
He said, “I won’t take anything for granted.” “I don’t feel like I can hold back in any kind of experience.
“Just like I’ve been here before, and I’ve done it. But nothing is given to you and I have to go out there and earn it just like I earned everything else in my career.”
It’s been 32 years since he was the British winner of the St Andrews Open Nick Faldo He won in 1990. Woods made his debut here five years after Faldo and won in 2000 and 2005. This year’s tournament offers McElroy an opportunity to assert his career.
But above all, he will give peace to McIlroy.
As he walked over the Swilcan Bridge on Saturday, he didn’t take off his hat. It is not time to celebrate. He doesn’t yet have one hand on a claret jug, let alone two. Until he’s there in the middle of Sunday’s 18th Sunday raising the Holy Grail high, he’ll think of nothing but the next shot and staying in his cocoon.
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