Woods, understandably, takes tentative steps as of late. He’ll usually maintain a membership in his proper hand as he leaves the tee field, gently swinging it like a cane as he walks towards a fairway. He does not lean on it for help — not precisely — nevertheless it appears to be like like he is utilizing it for reassurance. A safety blanket simply in case he takes a clumsy step. There is an efficient likelihood it’ll at all times be like this going ahead, the ache rising and ebbing to a level solely he understands.
McIlroy does not strut with the identical jaunty bounce or audacity he as soon as did. It is the stroll of a golfer who’s slightly older, a bit wiser, however one who has seen his share of disappointments, particularly in main championships.
They are each totally different — one due to accidents, one due to confidence.
If you have been paying shut consideration within the first spherical of the PGA Championship on Thursday, nonetheless, you could possibly catch a glimpse of the previous McIlroy strut. When he birdied the fifteenth gap — his fourth consecutive birdie of the morning — it reappeared. McIlroy strolled to the sixteenth tee together with his chest main the best way, mild on his ft like a prizefighter headed to the ring. It felt, for a second, like 2014 once more, when McIlroy was the game’s alpha king,
Rory McIlroy birdies to place himself 5 underneath par on the PGA Championship.
Woods was making an attempt to suppress a grimace. Late in his spherical, each swing and each step felt both tentative or labored.
The return of McIlroy’s strut wasn’t everlasting. He throttled it right down to a saunter after he hit his drive right into a fairway bunker on the sixteenth gap (he saved par). A pair of bogies on his again 9 diminished it additional. But to see flashes of it at Southern Hills throughout McIlroy’s 5-under par 65 was a fantastic sight. It was his lowest opening spherical in a significant since 2011 at Congressional, and possibly extra proof that his closing spherical at the Masters final month was one thing of a golf exorcism.
For the primary time in years, McIlroy will not must climb out of a gap to contend. He did not spend weeks obsessing in regards to the nuances of Southern Hills within the lead-up to the championship — he’d by no means even performed the course till he arrived this week — he simply watched a couple of flyover movies as prep and determined to belief his pure expertise.
“I think when your game is feeling like that, it’s just a matter of going out there and really sticking to your game plan, executing as well as you possibly can, and just sort of staying in your own little world,” McIlroy mentioned. “I did that really well today.”
McIlroy, who made seven birdies in his first spherical, was in such a playful temper afterward, he could not resist having slightly enjoyable on the expense of the PGA of America press convention moderator when requested — sure or no — was he completely satisfied about getting off to a sizzling begin.
“Yes or no?” McIlroy requested incredulously. “No, I’d rather shoot 74 and try to make the cut tomorrow.”
Shooting 74 and making an attempt to make the minimize, sadly, is much less of a laughing matter for Woods, as a result of that is the state of affairs he faces after a depressing slog of a gap spherical. Woods appeared sharp early, making a birdie on his opening gap (the tenth) then one other on the 14th. At that time, he was only one shot off the lead, and the large crowd following him, McIlroy and Jordan Spieth was pulsing with power. (Spieth wasn’t doing a lot to contribute to it; his sloppy iron play led to a mediocre 2-over 72.)
But Woods’ conservative technique of hitting irons off some tees, when McIlroy and Spieth have been hammering the motive force or a fairway wooden, caught up with him, notably as his proper leg appeared to tire. He made 5 bogeys in eight holes throughout one stretch and missed the green thrice together with his 2-iron. He admitted after the spherical that he was taking part in a recreation his opponents weren’t aware of, and that there might not be a spot for it in trendy golf. Woods’ appeared to be lamenting a bygone period, whereas additionally admitting he should know higher.
“We were talking about it [Thursday], Joey [LaCava] and I, the days of the Lee Janzens and the Scott Simpsons and the [Nick] Faldos of the world, playing that kind of golf is gone,” Woods mentioned. “You go out there and hit driver a lot, and if you have a hot week, you have a hot week and you’re up there. The game is just different. It’s much more aggressive now, and I know that.”
On his final two holes — each bogeys — Woods grimaced in ache on every of his tee photographs. Every time he bent down to choose grass from the green to throw within the air and gauge the wind, it appeared like a strained endeavor. When he tried to crouch down low to hit bunker photographs, he appeared a lot older than his 46 years. The optimism Woods had early within the week, when he mentioned he believed he may win the event, appears to have already pale.
“I just can’t load it,” Woods mentioned on the surgically repaired leg. “Loading hurts, pressing off it hurts, and walking hurts, and twisting hurts. It’s just golf. If I don’t do that, then I’m all right.”
It was onerous to look at Woods limp residence and marvel if he ought to mull withdrawing, hold rehabbing, deal with The Open at St. Andrews, however he appeared to don’t have any such plans.
“Lots of treatment, lots of ice baths, and try and get the inflammation out and try and get ready for [Friday’s second round],” Woods mentioned.
After Woods putted out on the ninth inexperienced, narrowly avoiding a double bogey after a flubbed chip, he gingerly made his manner towards the Southern Hills clubhouse, taking tentative, deliberate strides up the wooden stairs. McIlroy made the choice to sure up the grass hill as a substitute, his head bobbing as he blew proper by.