The world’s inhabited by Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell certainly don't lack for drama. A frontrunning effort by McIlroy once again was for naught, although without any ruinous flourishes, while McDowell once more cratered in a tournament in which he was contending for the lead.
McIlroy responded to Jack Nicklaus's entreaty to play in his Memorial at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, while McDowell repaired to the Celtic Manor Resort in Wales, where he not only prospered in last year's Ryder Cup, but also won the event in 2010 that this year trafficked as the Saab Wales Open.
McIlroy held the first-round lead in Jack's tournament, shooting a 6-under-par 66 that was built on seven birdies with just one offsetting bogey. Things turned rockier on Friday as he alternated bogeys with birdies to make the turn at even-par 36. He looked to have turned a corner, both literally and figuratively, with birdies at 11 and 13, but gave those back with a double bogey at 14. He finished the round with an even-par 72.
The surge McIlroy needed on Saturday didn't materialize, especially as he carded double bogey at the fourth hole. An eagle-3 at 15 helped a bit as he shot 71. A spree of four straight birdies beginning at the fifth hole on Sunday presaged a rally, but that was cut short with backside bogeys at 10, 13 and 14. But then Steve Stricker would have been hard to catch under any circumstances. McIlroy finished in fifth place at 277, which was five strokes off Stricker's winning score.
McIlroy pronounced himself pleased with the state of his game approaching next week's U.S. Open. He sees strategizing as key to his chances at Congressional in Bethesda, Md.
"If you're going to miss shots, miss it in the right places," McIlroy said. "This week, if you miss greens, it's very penal here and you get punished quite easily. It's the same as the U.S. Open, if you miss it in the wrong places you're looking at a five or a six. So, it's just something I need to address a little bit."
DOWN IN FLAMES IN WALES
Wales has provided McDowell with fond reminiscences, although last week's experience won't be tinged with sepia-coated overtones in his mental scrapbook.
McDowell opened with rounds of 67 and 68 at Celtic Manor to enter the weekend just one stroke off Alexander Noren's lead. McDowell had only three bogeys over that early stretch, with two coming at 14. Ironically, he would play that hole evenly over the weekend.
Trouble began early on Saturday with a double-bogey 6 at the opening hole. A plugged lie here, an out-of-bounds there, bunkers hither and yon, and, pretty soon, we're talking real carnage, the likes of which is typified more by John Daly than Graeme McDowell. By the time McDowell left the seventh green, he was eight strokes over par for his round. Birdies at the eighth and ninth holes appeared to stanch the bleeding, but an 8 at the par-4 12th hole really left its mark. He signed to a score of 81.
"I got off to a start where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong," McDowell said of his Saturday round. "I just couldn't seem to get anything going at all. My head was spinning and I was swinging the club pretty loose. I felt like I got heavily punished for some mediocre golf.
McDowell toughed it out on Sunday, shooting even-par 71 to finish in joint-30th at 287, which was 12 strokes off Noren's winning total. McDowell had a string of three consecutive birdies in midround, but closing bogeys at 15 and 18 dampened any good feelings that might have mushroomed.
"Damage was done yesterday and it was just about trying to go out there and repair some of the damage today," McDowell said on Sunday. "I'm not disturbed about my game in any shape or form. It's firing on all cylinders. Yes, I have work to do between now and Congressional."
REST FOR THE WEARY
McDowell planned on three days' rest and relaxation in Portrush, whereupon he would return to his home in the Orlando area to hone his game and then head up to Washington on Sunday for his U.S. Open defense. He's already taken a glimpse of the task that lies ahead.
"I saw [Congressional] a few weeks back," McDowell said. "It looked very long and demanding that day, but hopefully it's firmed up a little bit, and I'm sure the rough has gotten heavier since I was there. I'm looking forward to it. It should be a great week and looking forward to defending, of course."
This was Sweden's week to shine as Noren and four of his countrymen took up positions in the top 10. Damien McGrane was the top-finishing Irishman, gaining a share of 28th place at 286 (67-73-73-73). Recent winners Michael Hoey and Darren Clarke also made the cut, although the weekend flattered neither's reputation. Hoey tied for tied for 54th place at 294 (71-71-75-77), with three double bogeys on Sunday working against him.
Clarke was in the mix after firing 68 on Thursday, but he plunged down the leaderboard with subsequent rounds of 74, 80 and 80.
Shane Lowry had his first weekend off in some time as he missed the cut by one stroke. Colm Moriarty was similarly dispatched after finishing three strokes on the high side after 36 holes.