McIlroy maintains hope after nightmare start

McIlroy maintains hope after nightmare start

McIlroy maintains hope after nightmare start

He arrived at Birkdale having missed the cut at three of his previous four tournaments, while the error-strewn start to his first round virtually ruled him out of contention for a second claret jug.

Early Thursday when everything that could go wrong was going wrong for the Northern Irishman, his caddie J.P. Fitzgerald decided he'd seen enough. "What the f*** are you doing?".

McIlroy stoked the fire on Friday morning, with three birdies in his first six holes.

Open champion in 2014 at Hoylake and a four-time major victor, McIlroy admitted it took some strong words from his caddy JP Fitzgerald to help him recover.

But the on-form Yank trio have been warned to look in their wing mirrors by a defiant McIlroy, who senses that his recovery from the brink of disaster could be the kick up the backside he needed. Things could have been even better had he not wasted so many birdie and eagle putts, but his tee and approach shots were generally excellent.

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In April, he married his longtime girlfriend Erica Stoll, a life-changing moment that was understandably celebrated, but a change nonetheless.

McIlroy hasn't missed the cut at consecutive majors since 2010 (Masters, U.S. Open) and is taking confidence from winning the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston in September a year ago after being 4 over through three holes.

"They're the putts that haven't quite been going in over the past few weeks", he added.

Perhaps more than any other modern player, McIlroy is keenly adept at taking the long view. He won the final two majors of the year, with a World Golf Championship title in between.

Most important, his pitching, putting, and bunker play helped him make vital par saves on the eighth, ninth, and tenth holes, keeping him on track, and getting him to the turn in 31 shots.

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Pádraig Harrington, champion here in 2008, needed to chip-in for birdie on the last to make the cut which fell on 145, five-over. The first drops of rain fell while he was on the third green - about 3:30 p.m. - but they were only a hint of what was to come.

"It's hard to think "big picture" now, I'm just off the golf course and I'm a little disappointed", he said.

"And I've been able to achieve that goal that I set myself".

"The back nine is playing really, really hard". 10, 11, 12 and 14. By midmorning Friday, he was fist-pumping and club-twirling his way up the leaderboard, and the gallery following him at Royal Birkdale swelled to the point that patrons were packed together around the greens so tightly it felt as if we were sharing a subway vehicle.

"Huge", he explained when asked about his short-game magic act.

"I hit some quality shots out there, I saw a lot of better iron shots and saw some really good putts going in so I was happy to see that and I just have to try to keep that going for the next two days".

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It happened when McIlroy hit his tee shot left into the gallery. "There's a big difference between 5-over par and 6-over". Yet as is often the case in professional golf, performance and confidence are not mutually exclusive. It's not as if I can't see myself shooting a good score. "With the way I finished, I feel really good about it".

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