Rory McIlroy left Bay Hill on Thursday with a two-stroke lead in the Arnold Palmer Invitational after shooting 65, which featured six birdies, an eagle and one bogey. But he wasn’t lulled into thinking that he could shift into cruise control in Florida.
“Three years in a row, it’s sort of been start off, lead the golf tournament, then you just sort of regress and come back to the field each and every day,” McIlroy said after Sunday’s round.
McIlroy was eight strokes over par through the next 54 holes. An even-par 72 on Friday was the precursor to identical rounds of 76 over the weekend. At least he had the pleasure of Graeme McDowell’s company for Sunday’s round.
The duo commiserated over matching 76s on Sunday, which left them both tied for 13th place at 1-over-par 289. Only four members of the field broke par on Sunday; even champion Scottie Scheffler was even for the day with 72. He finished the event five strokes under par.
“I feel punch drunk, to be honest,” McIlroy said. “The weekend, it’s like crazy golf. You just don’t get rewarded for good shots. I’m playing good. I’m hitting good shots. I’m swinging the club well. I’m chipping well. I’m putting well. I’m certainly playing better than shooting 8-over over the weekend.
“They need to do something about it. There’s a lot of guys that sort of stay away this week to get ready for [this week’s Players Championship]. I think it’s just a golf course set-up issue and maybe just trying to make it a little less penal when you miss, I guess. Or not even less penal when you miss. I don’t mind golf courses being penal when you miss, but it’s not rewarding good shots. I think that’s where it starts to get across the line.”
McDowell alternated the good with the bad. An opening 68 left him three strokes behind McIlroy, but then 76 on Friday took some of the starch out of him. Saturday’s 69 was only a stroke off the day’s low number. But another 76 was in the deck on Sunday.
Padraig Harrington earned a share of 42nd place after shooting 73, 74, 75 and 73. He took a double bogey-7 at the sixth hole on Friday but got his revenge with an eagle-3 there on Saturday. He stuck his approach shot about a foot from the pin, and was able to convert the putt for eagle.
Seamus Power remains mired in a bit of a funk. He again missed the cut. Rounds of 80 and 72 left him five strokes on the high side of the line.
Shane Lowry will join McIlroy and Power at Sawgrass this week for the Players.
Leona Maguire tied for 13th place in the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore. Rounds of 70, 72, 69 and 68 left her nine strokes under par and eight behind champion Jin Young Ko.
“Feel like I wasn’t quite at my best this week,” Maguire said. “It was good but there was a lot of maybes that left a lot of putts out there. And a lot of birdies could have gone either way.”
Up this week is the Honda LPGA Thailand.
PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS
An opening round 66 suggested that Darren Clarke would be a factor in the Hoag Classic in Newport Beach, Calif. Subsequent rounds of 72, however, consigned him to a share of 15th place, 12 strokes behind Retief Goosen, who won by four strokes.
The first round featured three birdies, an eagle and no bogeys. The bogeys caught up on Saturday, when there were three, followed by five on Sunday.
The senior set is off until April.
DP WORLD TOUR
Niall Kearney was the top Irishman in the Magical Kenya Open in Nairobi. He mixed rounds of 70, 71, 69 and 69 to finish joint-34th, 11 strokes behind Ashun Wu’s winning score. He got off to a particularly thorny start on Saturday, with bogey at each of the first three holes. But he recovered with eagle at the fourth and played the rest of the round three strokes under par.
Paul Dunne (70-72-71-70) got a share of 51st place at 1-under-par 283. Jon Caldwell appeared destined for the weekend off after he shot 76 on Thursday, but he squeezed above the cut line with Friday’s 66. Weekend rounds of 72 and 73 left him tied for 65th place.
Cormac Sharvin, likewise, made the cut on the number with rounds of 70 and 72 and appeared as if he was going to climb the leaderboard as he birdied the first and third holes on Saturday. But then he shot 9 at the par-5 fourth hole and his round was torn to shreds. He then lost five strokes over the next four holes. The bleeding finally stopped and he finished with 78. A 70 on Sunday entitled him to a share of 71st place.
John Murphy worked out a share of 18th place in the Mangaung Open in South Africa. Rounds of 69, 68 and an immaculate 64 placed him in the thick of the chase but he was limited to two birdies on Sunday, when he shot 73. He finished seven strokes off the winning number posted by Oliver Hundeboll.
Tom McKibbin wasn’t quite the factor he has been in recent weeks. He earned a share of 49th place at 9-under-par 279 (68-70-72-69). A thorny patch on Saturday, with four bogeys over a seven-hole stretch, worked against him.