PGA Tour Live
Rory McIlroy, in winning the Dubai Desert Classic two weeks ago, admitted he did so in a sort of unicorn way, at least for him. He’d won without his best stuff, he said, and that’s “rarer than I’d like it to be.”
“I think that’s the — I think I said afterwards, it’s one of the things that made Tiger stand out all those years is he was able to win golf tournaments when he wasn’t at his best,” McIlroy said earlier this week. “Look, I’m not comparing myself for one minute to Tiger Woods, but if I can get better at sort of piecing it together and not getting — not wanting to play perfect golf to win golf tournaments. I didn’t react to bad shots; I sort of had a two-way miss off the tee; there was a bunch of stuff going on.
“But I was just able to put that behind me and really win with my short game and my putting and my ability just to manage my game.”
And that thought segues us to the par-4 2nd at TPC Scottsdale. A trend could be forming.
Of course, this also requires some rocky play, and McIlroy checked that box during Thursday’s WM Phoenix Open first round. His tee shot went right, over the rough and over the gallery, and just short of nearby housing and out of bounds; he was about a foot and a half to the left of a boundary fence. There was more to his lie. A shrub’s branches sat above his ball. Fans were nearby. Trees, too. A PGA Tour ShotLink tower was about 40 yards ahead and to his left.
Among all of that was a line to the hole, about 125 yards away. Notably, an announcer on the PGA Tour Live broadcast wondered why McIlroy didn’t seek on-the-line relief because of the ShotLink tower.
“I think if I was on the bag,” the announcer said, “I would be begging for him at least to ask. Doesn’t hurt to ask the question.
“This is just fraught with danger.”
It was unclear whether McIlroy discussed doing so with caddie Harry Diamond, though they talked multiple times. Then there was the scene immediately above his ball. At one point, McIlroy settled in for the shot, only to get spooked and step back; one of the shrub’s branches had touched his iron.
Would McIlroy make contact? Would he hit the fence? Or a tree? Or the tower? Or fans? Or … the green? Afterward, these were his swing thoughts.
“Actually the way I was walking up to my ball, it looked like I didn’t have a backswing, but I didn’t realize the angle, like how far right the green actually was,” McIlroy said. “So I got over it, I was like, OK, I needed to take it a little bit more on the inside than I usually would and sort of just toe it in a little bit, but I sort of got lucky because the wind was hard off the left and I needed to hit that hard draw against the wind, and it was the only way to stop it on — that green I feel like is the firmest green on the course, so it was the only way to stop it.”
Of course, because of the way this story was set up, you already know the ending, but the shot is still worth describing.
As McIlroy noted, he took his swing a little inside, abbreviated his finish, then squatted down to see if his ball cleared the traffic ahead. It did.
It took a bounce and finished 43 feet away.
“Oh my goodness,” one announcer said on the PGA Tour Live broadcast.
“Are you kidding?” another announcer said. “What a shot. How is that even possible? Is that the second green? Wow.”
“This is the one that would have taken shutting down the clubface, getting it high up in the air to be able to cover those limbs,” the second announcer continued. “That is insane how good that shot is.”
From there, McIlroy two-putted for a par four, and he eventually signed for a two-over 73.
That’s not great. In fact, it was his highest score on Tour since last June’s U.S. Open. Then again, he’s not out of it, either.
“Yeah, I felt like I hit it OK,” McIlroy said. “It was hard, I’ve been struggling with the left miss a little bit, so last week I was doing a lot of sort of trying to clear my body and almost trying to just hit like little fades, and there was a ton of left to right winds out there today, so it really felt like my ball just going on those left-to-right winds pretty hard and just never really got a handle on it.
“Again, I felt like I played okay and swung it OK. Just one of those days.”