Hangover for new world No 1 McIlroy as Westwood suffers again at Doral
00:34 GMT, 9 March 2012
Rory McIlroy confessed to feeling
'flat' after shooting his first over par round in five months at the
WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral on Thursday.
After all the excitement of becoming
world No 1 and all the commotion that followed it, perhaps it wasn't
surprising that it caught up with the 22-year-old a little as he posted a
disappointing opening score of 73.
Disappointed: new world No 1 Rory McIlroy
Click here for first-round scores
Not since a similar score in Korea last October – 29 strokeplay rounds and 151 days ago – had McIlroy finished above the regulation mark, and his frustration was plain. 'I know I shouldn't have felt flat given the prestige of the event but it just felt that way out there,' he said. 'But at least it wasn't disastrous. I just have to go out there tomorrow and post a red number.'
Two men who did that were Australian Adam Scott and American Jason Dufner, who defied the blustery conditions to take the lead with scores of 66.
McIlroy wasn't the only big name to struggle. In theory his score opened the door for playing partners Luke Donald and Lee Westwood to contemplate deposing him and become world No 1 again. In practice, only Donald with a composed 70 – he needs a top four finish to have any chance – has given himself a realistic shot.
As for Westwood, picture taking a corporate client with no knowledge of golf to watch him on Thursday. Look, there's Westy you might have pointed out. He hits virtually every fairway and green and is enjoying a blistering run of form.
Misery: Lee Westwood takes a drop after hitting into the water on the 10th
After nine holes, your corporate client might well have walked out and cancelled any prospective business on the basis that you plainly had no idea what you were on about.
Talk about an unfathomable game. Last Sunday at the Honda Classic, the Englishman closed with a 63. Now, just four days later, the man with the laser woods and irons was so off-beam he had to take three penalty shots in his first six holes.
It is no exaggeration to say one drive at the 16th was 70 yards off line. It finished in such uncharted territory it caused a small posse of us to head into the undergrowth in search of a little white ball, as if we were playing ourselves.
The great advantage of starting from the tenth is there are two par fives in the first three holes. What an opportunity for a fast start. Instead Westwood shot 6,5,6, which were scores that would have disappointed a 12 handicapper.
In his 40th WGC (World Golf Championship) event, Westwood needed 40 blows to reach the turn to stand 74th out of 74 players. Credit him for not losing his sense of humour. On to his back nine, and when a birdie putt finally dropped at the 4th he indulged in a theatrical fist pump. He finished with a 76 that did nothing to help him improve his poor record at this course, where he has mustered just one top 20 finish.
Struggle: Tiger Woods could not master the conditions
A decent-sized gallery followed the three UK players but it was nothing in comparison to the enormous crowds watching Tiger Woods. What an opening salvo he gave them, starting off here as he finished last Sunday's wondrous 62, with an eagle three, as his second shot finished tap-in distance away.
Once upon a time he might have gone on from that and dominated the field but the putter was irksome once more and, like so many, he struggled with the blustery conditions. He finished with a 72. 'The intent was to carry on like Sunday and I hit a lot of solid shots but couldn't make many birdies,' he said.
One man who did make plenty of birdies was his playing partner Sergio Garcia. In fact, he made seven in his first 12 holes to stand five under and lie in second place at that stage. What happened thereafter was perhaps even more baffling than Westwood's front nine, a collapse that was as dramatic as it was complete. In the last six holes Garcia had five bogeys and a triple to finish with a 75. He went out in 31 shots and back in 44, which might stand as the biggest discrepancy between front and back nines in the history of these WGC events.
Nightmare: Sergio Garcia finished with five bogeys and a triple
Justin Rose finished best of the home players with a 69, while Scot Paul Lawrie shot 70. After their recent injury and illness respectively, it wasn't surprising that Paul Casey and Ian Poulter struggled to rounds of 76.
Casey was playing his first competitive round for three months following a dislocated shoulder while Poulter lost 10lbs in weight last week after falling victim to pneumonia. 'I just feel glad to be playing golf again,' said a relieved Poulter who, like Casey, will benefit from the fact this event has no halfway cut.
As for the two leaders, Scott was playing just his sixth competitive round of the year. 'I played beautiful golf over the front nine and then just kind of hung in the rest of the way,' he said. Dufner, runner-up at the U.S PGA Championship last year, had just one bogey on his card, at the notorious 18th.
Then there was Open Champion Darren Clarke. Not once in a full-field event since he won at Royal St Geoge's last July has he mustered a top 30 finish, and it is clearly getting to him. Asked about his feeble efforts on Wednesday, he came up with one of the quotes of this golfing year: 'I feel enveloped by a feeling of uselessness.'
After a seven at the last to turn a rare good round into a 74, it was more like a feeling of rage.