Irish Open: A round with Rory at sun-kissed Ballyliffin


It was another day of putter problems for world number eight McIlroy on the Donegal links

“Phones on silent,” cries Rory at Ballyliffin.

If he wasn’t frustrated enough at seeing a 20-foot birdie putt defy gravity moments earlier after horseshoeing out of the cup, now Rory McIlroy is having to fulfil marshal duties at the Irish Open.

The plea for no offending ringtones has already gone out from the chief marshal patrolling McIlroy’s three-ball but after two stepaways from his ball because of disturbances, the former world number one has to lay down the law himself.

McIlroy’s knows full well it goes with the territory of his global superstar status.

But while he doesn’t want to make too much fuss, he wonders why folk don’t “consume the golf a bit more through their eyes rather than through the camera lens”.

“It is a little bit [of a distraction]. It’s tough when you have to back off shots and you are in your routine. But it’s the modern world,” shrugs the 29-year-old.

The mobile phone issue surfaces again 20 minutes later on the second green as a ringtone blares just as McIlroy’s playing partner Thorbjorn Olesen is standing over a slippery 10-foot par putt.

After a plea from his caddie, the unruffled and invariably smiling Dane strokes in the putt and goes on to outscore McIlroy by four shots as a 69 leaves him well in touch on three under in the tournament – two ahead of the tournament host.

That’s the kind of calm Olesen’s compatriot and European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn could be looking for in Paris next September.

Barring something totally unforeseen, McIlroy will certainly be there at Le Golf National but he will be hoping his putter behaves itself in a much more obliging fashion in Paris than it has so far in County Donegal.

‘It tested my patience’ – McIlroy

After seven missed putts from inside 10 feet in a majestic ball-striking round on Thursday, McIlroy’s putter is again distinctly cold on the Glashedy links – in marked contrast to the climactic conditions in sun-splashed Inishowen.

A missed eight-footer for birdie at his opening hole, the 10th, is just the start he doesn’t want after Thursday’s travails and his work with the flat stick fails to improve during the remainder of the round.

But while his frustration builds on the greens, by the time he arrives at the tee boxes McIlroy is invariably a convivial presence as he shoots the breeze with Olesen, his other playing partner Matthew Fitzpatrick and the caddies.

A long delay on the sixth tee is filled by McIlroy’s musings on the World Cup with France his fancy for overall glory and England possibly their final opponents. Wouldn’t that be quite something?

Despite his berating the crowd earlier, the spectators’ affection for Ireland’s golfing hero is demonstrated by the rapturous reception he receives as he descends down from the tee to the green on the spectacular par-three seventh.

“Rory…Rory…Rory,” bellows out from the packed greenside hill which may be called ‘McIlroy Mound’ after this week.

McIlroy has been spotted out and about in the locality this week with visits to a supermarket and pharmacy in the nearby town of Carndonagh among his stop-offs.

Rory McIlroy trees off on the picturesque 14th hole during his second round at Ballyliffin

That down to earth approach has been really appreciated by the locals, who know full well the key part the tournament host played in bringing the event to Inishowen, and you will not hear a word of criticism about McIlroy in these parts.

Judging by the post-round comments of the man himself, the feeling is mutual.

“They are fantastic. The weather is obviously great and that’s brought a lot of people out,” says the former world number one.

“It’s a great atmosphere out there. It’s enjoyable to play in front of them. Hopefully, I can give them something to cheer about over the last couple of days.”

With the leaders still within striking distance, McIlroy is certainly not giving up the ghost.

“It does depend on what the guys do this afternoon but I’d say if I shot two 68s over the weekend, I don’t think I’d be too far away.”

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