Smarting, no doubt, from having had its course record broken not once but twice yesterday, Royal Aberdeen’s Balgownie Links bared its teeth in this afternoon’s second round of the Scottish Open.
Just ask Rory McIlroy. Having posted a new low score around the course yesterday – a stunning, seven-under 64 – the Northern Irishman was 14 shots worse off today. He got off to a poor start, bogeying the first, and coughed up another shot at fifth. A birdie at six appeared to settle him, only for six more shots to go between the eighth and 14th, leaving him level-par and, incredibly, in danger of missing the cut.
In that respect, he can be proud of the way he rallied with four straight pars to finish – including a gallant up and down from a greenside bunker at the last.
Even so, he cut a shell-shocked figure afterwards.
Searching for the words to describe his seven-over 78, the two-time major winner remarked: “I didn’t get off to the best of starts, obviously, and the front nine was where you really needed to make your mark. I turned in two-over-par, which wasn’t disastrous, not the end of the world, but the bogey on ten was from nowhere, and what followed just sort of compounded things.
“It was one of those days where nothing really went right I’m here for the weekend at least. I just need to go out early tomorrow and try to shoot something close to what I did on the first day.”
"It’s another Friday out of the way, thank God, and roll on the weekend." - Rory McIlroy
McIlroy’s back nine struggles can, in part, be explained by a changed in wind direction at Royal Aberdeen from the first round. Playing into the breeze, birdies proved much harder to come by for the majority of the field.
“This was the first day that I’d played the course with that wind direction and it was much tougher,” added McIlroy. “When you play the front nine into the dunes, you’re much more sheltered than you are on the back, where you’re up on a plateau and more exposed.”
Statisticians will tell you that we shouldn’t have been too surprised by McIlroy’s struggles today. Starting the day, he was a combined 51-under-par in his first rounds worldwide in 2014, compared with two-over in second rounds. It’s an alarming trend and something he’s at odds to explain.
“Always talking about it and it always being brought up means it’s always on your mind,” he sighed. “It’s another Friday out of the way, thank God, and roll on the weekend. Hopefully, next Friday is a little different than it was today!”
McIlroy is a shot worse off than defending champion Phil Mickelson, who followed up his 68 with a 73. Despite a somewhat attritional day at Royal Aberdeen, the American was relatively satisfied with his performance.
“It was tough, it was fun, you had to hit different kinds of shots, but I think I actually played pretty well,” said the five-time major winner. “I hit three poor tee shots that cost me four shots but I fought hard.
“It’s such a good test because one bad slip-up will cost you one or two shots, like it did me. It is very mentally draining playing out there and I’m a little concerned that it’s taking up a little more energy than I would like for next week but it’s also a good opportunity to focus on some of the shots that we’ll have next week, so it kind of goes both ways.”
Russell Knox got off to a flying start with two eagles and a birdie in his first six holes. Indeed, he led the tournament for a short spell at eight-under-par. However, a calamitous finish saw him give all those shots back in his last six holes.
“It was bizarre,” he remarked. “I felt fine, I felt normal, I didn’t feel under any extra pressure. It’s hard to explain.
"It was just weird but I did my best." - Russell Knox
“The wind was a lot stronger than I thought it was going to be and, when you turned to play into it, that was just about as hard as the course could play. I just didn’t deal with it well enough. I hit a couple of shots that just kind of baffled me and, sometimes, it’s just hard to make par. I didn’t feel like I wasn’t swinging well. It was just weird but I did my best.”
Fellow Scot Marc Warren coped far better with the conditions and, at six-under-par, has a share of the lead (with Ricardo Gonzalez and Kristoffer Broberg) going into the weekend.
After blowing a gilt-edged chance to win the tournament at Castle Stuart two years ago, the Glasgow man admits that it would be special to get his hands on the Scottish Open trophy on Sunday evening.
“It would be a romantic tale,” he laughed. “It’s a massive event and I’m sure anybody would love to win it but, being Scottish, it would be that bit more special.
“I played the front nine really well and the back nine better, given the conditions, so I’m really pleased.”
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