After declining media duties following a frustrating two-over-par 74, what Rory McIlroy didn’t need was to hook one left into the thick stuff off the first tee on day two.
But that’s exactly what he did. It was, however, the only poor shot he hit on a largely positive front nine. In regular conversation with playing partners Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson throughout, McIlroy made tap-in birdies at the par-5 third and fifth holes, while momentum started to build with another on the par-4 seventh to see him creep inside the cut line.
“That’s more like it,” mused on spectator as McIlroy strode confidently towards the eighth tee, responding to kids’ calls of “C’mon Rory” and holding his hand out for high fives.
But those confident of a turn-around ought to have known that the four-time major winner had also birdied the third, fifth and seventh holes in his opening round and that the back nine would be the real test.
And so it proved again. After safely negotiating the 11th and 12th holes – which he had bogeyed on Thursday – McIlroy was undone at the par-4 13th making double-bogey for the second day in a row after taking two attempts to get out of the greenside bunker. His progress was halted and he was outside the cut line once more.
“There was just so much sand in that bunker,” said McIlroy afterwards. “I told myself, you've got to hit this hard, and I couldn't hit it any harder. It was just buried. It wasn't that good to me this week but that's how it goes.”
Whether he was affected by the momentum-killing double or by the ten-minute wait on the 14th tee – the group had to queue as those in front had yet to hit their tee shots – McIlroy went way right into the thick stuff but managed to salvage par.
Still on one-over and with the cut fluctuating between level par and one-under, McIlroy desperately needed something to happen. But it didn’t. A regulation par at the 15th was followed by a par save from the greenside bunker on the 16th and, at the 17th – after obliterating his tee shot – he couldn’t get his wedge shot any closer than 25ft and another chance slipped by.
If any shot summed up McIlroy’s last couple of weeks, it was unquestionably his putt at the last. With the cut mark still unknown and needing a birdie to get to level par (the cut eventually fell at one-under), he pulled his 6ft putt comfortably left before moving aside to perform some practice putting movements.
“It was terrible,” McIlroy said of the putt, but he remained fairly upbeat about his game – despite a third missed cut in four events.
“Look, I'm frustrated,” he added. “But at the same time I thought I saw some good signs out there. It’s close but it’s hard to put my finger on it. It's not like I'm shooting 76s and 77s.
“I'm just waiting for something – some sort of spark. I’ve just got to keep plugging away and hopefully it turns around next week.
“If I go to Birkdale next week and I shoot a couple of even pars like I've done these last couple weeks, I don't think I'll be that far away.”