ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) — His eyes rolled. His head swayed. His shoulders slumped. Rory McIlroy looked like he was on the verge of a full-scale tantrum.
He was the first-round leader of the British Open. Now, he was just a kid not getting his way.
The 21-year-old hotshot from Northern Ireland received quite a whipping from the Old Course on Friday. A day earlier, he tied the major-championship record by shooting a 9-under 63 in pristine conditions. But with the wind howling – so much so that play was actually suspended for about an hour – McIlroy went tumbling down the leaderboard.
He signed for an 80.
No player had ever shot such a high score after going so low the day before in a major tournament.
“It was just very, very difficult out there,” McIlroy said. “I just let it get away from me a little bit.”
His frustration nearly boiled over at the 18th hole, when he drove up next to the green then watched his uphill putt fail to clear the ridge and roll back down. He broke into a pained smile, as if he couldn’t believe what was happening, and lined up for another whack.
This time, it held about 5 feet from the cup. McIlroy put down his marker, snatched up the ball and looked ready to scream. He gathered himself and made the par putt.
At least he’ll make the cut with a 1-under 143 total.
That was about the only thing he could take from this long, lost day at St. Andrews.
“There’s a lot of big players that have missed the cut this weekend,” said McIlroy, who went from a two-stroke lead to trailing new leader Louis Oosthuizen by a staggering 11 shots. “So at least I’m here for the weekend, which is a positive.”
The round took a turn for the worse for McIlroy when British Open officials decided to suspend play because howling winds were causing balls to wobble on the greens.
He was off to a solid start when the horn sounded, with pars on the first three holes. When he returned to the course after a delay of 1 hour, 5 minutes, he was not the same golfer.
“I don’t think they should have called us off the golf course,” he said. “When we got back out there, the conditions hadn’t changed. The wind probably got a little bit worse. It probably wasn’t a smart move.”
Suddenly, the shots that had flown so straight the day before began flying off into the tall grass lining the fairways. McIlroy had a 7-iron into the fourth green and wound up with a bogey. He bogeyed three of the next four holes as well, made the turn with a 40 and knew he was in big, big trouble.
“I felt as if I played the first three holes quite well, solid, and then I hit a good tee shot on 4 and then they called us in,” McIlroy said. “It might have been a little bit to do with it. I’m not trying to make any excuses. Even from then I didn’t hit it well and didn’t put myself in the right places to try and make any birdies or make some sort of a score.”
The round totally fell apart at the par-3 11th, which played into the teeth of the wind. He couldn’t keep his tee shot on the green, failed to get it out of the hollow on his first attempt, and wound up taking a double bogey.
“You couldn’t feel how strong the wind was at the tee box,” McIlroy said. “That was probably one of the toughest holes on the course today. I just didn’t hit it hard enough. You couldn’t hit it hard enough. It was straight back into the wind and up that hill.”
He isn’t ready to give up totally on his chances of contending for the claret jug. While Oosthuizen is five strokes clear of the field, this is only the second time in nine major appearances that he’s even made the cut. Who knows how the obscure South African will react to being a contender for the first time in an event of this magnitude.
Then again, McIlroy knows he’ll be largely at the mercy of the weather. If the wind keeps blowing the way it did Friday, there’s not much chance of making up such a large deficit by firing at the pins in hopes of making a bunch of birdies.
So he looked for what few positives he could take from the day – closing with three straight pars. Perhaps he discovered a bit of mental toughness he didn’t know he had, the kind of fortitude that will come in handy later on.
“I could have let the round get away from me, if I’m quite honest,” he said. “I was starting to get very frustrated. But I did well to par the last three holes. I’m just going to go back now and have a bit of room service and get some sleep and get ready for tomorrow.”