Inconsistent Rory McIlroy starts USPGA Championship with topsy-turvy round

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Who was that whispering to Rory McIIroy in the long Kiawah grass – the demons or the angels, taunting him with troubling thoughts or soothing his mind with memories of the carefree glory days? It didn’t take long to find out. McIlroy had barely digested his breakfast muesli before he found himself yomping towards the salt marshes on his starting 10th hole, frantically trying to remember what the Kiawah Island book of course etiquette had advised re alligators and sea turtles lurking in the undergrowth (Don’t annoy the locals). On a dusty gravel path the 32-year-old had to quell his anxiety and set about righting the wrong, measuring out two club lengths for his recovery drop shot that was to eventually end in a face-saving, that-could-have-been-so-much-worse bogey 5. The template was set. In the South Carolinas, McIlroy was in familiar territory: **** of the walk to feather duster in the same round as his back-to-back bogeys on the turn indicated. Just as he thought he had it cracked, the wobbles returned. Bogeys at three of the par fives. Maddening. McIlroy finished on 75, three over, just about clinging to contention. There has been plenty of foul as well as fair in the Northern Irishman’s career since he tamed this Beast on the East in 2012, winning by a record eight shots, and recollection of that day of delight from nine years ago, allied to a first Tour win in 19 months only a fortnight ago at Quail Hollow, had propelled McIlroy to the top of the betting for the first PGA Championship return to the venue since then. That ugly first shot carve had bookies rubbing their hands with glee. Bad Rory was their best friend. But the wayward one did manage to morph into Good Rory, the angst and tightness replaced by a certain assurance and smoothness, his drive at the 11th nestling down into the fairway, paving the way for a successful birdie putt, an encouraging feat repeated on the 12th. The errant McIlroy was not, however, to be permanently banished. Experience has never necessarily equated with peace of mind. The more you know, the more you fret, all too aware of what can go wrong as it did only last month when McIlroy missed the cut at the Masters. The PGA champion of yesteryear was a natural talent, a tousle-haired kid who was as happy watching Ulster rugby from the Ravenhill terraces as he was when walloping a golf ball. In search of such productive innocence has been the mission target for a while. The project continues. Yet there has been a sense of McIlroy finding a renewed, and better, sense of himself. Fatherhood (in September) friendship affirmed with caddie/best mate, Harry Diamond, making a call on the 18th that helped secure the title at the Wells Fargo, streamlining his close circle and taking counsel from psychologist, Bob Rotella, who recommended ‘a lobotomy’ according to McIlroy as a way of quietening an overheated brain. There was a frustrating bogey at the 606 yard Par 5 16th when there was no relief to be had from an embedded ball in the waste area, McIlroy slipping back to level after an encouraging early fightback. The harum-scarum, water, water everywhere, Par 3 17th was well negotiated as was the next hole to reach the turn in promising shape. Blob, blob followed. McIlroy was putting solidly but could not find that elusive consistency as was seen at the par 3 fifth when the chance of a long-range birdie ended with a disheartening bogey as the putts raced by the hole. The wind was at McIlroy’s back for the closing holes. Would the force be with him? Birdie at the sixth, drive into the wispy mire at the seventh, shots gained, shot dropped, no soon was solace found then it was snatched away. Par saved at the eighth (his 17th), par again on the last, a wipe of the furrowed brow and back to the practice range. The alligators will not have slept easy.

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