As his birdie attempt slipped by the 18th hole, Rory McIlroy gripped his putter tight and looked up in despair to an overcast sky.
Except it wasn’t his performance on the greens that frustrated the world’s second-ranked golfer during his ugly second round at the British Open.
Spraying drives left, right and straight into water-filled bunkers dotted around Royal Lytham & St. Annes, it was McIlroy’s errant tee shots that led to him shooting a 5-over 75 on Friday. That saw him flirting with the projected cut mark on a total score of 2-over 142, 12 shots adrift of leader Brandt Snedeker.
”I wasn’t committing to my tee shots and I was in two minds a few times about what shots to hit off the tees,” McIlroy said. ”That’s something I’ll need to improve on tomorrow, just really commit to it and try to get the ball on the fairway.”
With its tight fairways and unforgiving rough, Lytham demands accuracy off the tee. Another hazard are the 206 bunkers on the course — and McIlroy found three of them in his back nine.
One of them, at the 17th, had so much standing water in it after overnight rain that he chose to drop the ball in a part where there was actually some sand.
”The course is very playable. You just need to keep out of the bunkers, which is the whole idea anyway,” McIlroy said.
He needed two attempts to escape a greenside bunker at the par-3 No. 9 where he made a double-bogey 5, the turning point in his round according to McIlroy. He had somehow made it to that point in level par.
On the par-4 3rd, a slash out of the light rough following a pushed tee shot saw the ball fly across the fairway and almost hit the players preparing to tee off on the next hole. Japanese player Toshinori Muto even took evasive action after cries of ”fore.”
However, there were no casualties there, unlike on Thursday when McIlroy bounced a tee shot off the head of a teenage spectator on the 15th.
The kid, Jason Blue, required medical treatment and received both an apology and an autographed glove from McIlroy.
That wasn’t all. McIlroy chose to pay for a hotel room for Blue, who was camping out in a tent at a local cricket club while he attended his first British Open, and also bought him and a pal dinner at a restaurant on Thursday.
”It was the least I could do,” McIlroy said. ”I didn’t want him sleeping the night in a tent when he’s got a massive gash in the side of his head. Yeah, I put him and his mate up for the night and gave them a bit of cash to go for a bit of food last night.
”If someone gave me a big hole in the head, I wouldn’t be too happy.”
McIlroy broke into a smile after the round when he shook hands with Blue and the friend at the back of a journalists’ mixed zone. They also posed for pictures.
”Enjoy the next couple of days,” McIlroy shouted to Blue as the player walked off.
Whether McIlroy enjoys the weekend that is another matter.
He refused to give up hope of bridging the gap to Snedeker and others on the leaderboard, but knows things aren’t right. He has missed the cut in four of his past six events and is nothing like the player who wowed the world of golf with his 8-shot victory at last year’s U.S. Open at Congressional.
”It’s just tough when you’re really trying to get something going and it’s just not quite happening,” McIlroy said. ”You’re just trying to force it a little bit. And that’s what I did today.”