Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland watches his drive from the eighth tee during day two of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Golf Championship
Credit: Ramsey Cardy
Rory McIlroy bounced back from his mediocre opening at the Irish Open with a 67 and then revealed that whereas he once felt the weight of expectancy at his national championship, now he can take inspiration from the vibrant support.
On five under par, McIlroy is still eight off the lead, held by the Australian Lucas Herbert, who added a 67 to Thursday’s 64. But with the cut at Mount Juliet falling on three-under, McIlroy’s first objective was to qualify for the weekend after his first-round 72. Mission accomplished.
The 32-year-old has missed the cut four times in the last six times he has played in the Irish Open – albeit with a memorable win in 2016 – and he admitted after his fine morning featuring five birdies and no bogeys that moving to Florida has eased the pressure.
“It’s been a bit of a learning curve for me,” McIlroy said “I definitely now feel the support more than the expectation and it makes it easier not living here any more. Just separating myself from it all and coming back and just really enjoying the week has made a difference.”
Paul McGinley, McIlroy’s former Ryder Cup captain and long-time confidant, believes the world No 10 can launch a challenge over the weekend. “Rory’s going to have to go low over the final two rounds but we know he’s well capable of that,” McGinley, the Sky Sports analyst, said.
Rory McIlroy during day two of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Mount Juliet Estate golf course
Credit: Brian Lawless
“Everything went up a level today, particularly with the putter. He’s in good shape. There’s a calmness because he feels he’s on the right track. He’s got a renewed energy from the fresh ideas with [new coach] Pete Cowen and working with [sports psychologist] Bob Rotella in the background.”
Cowen, who has been quarantining in Yorkshire and unable to travel to Co Kilkenny talked to McIlroy after his first round and said he was “impressed with his mindset”. “He hit balls on the range last night after play, and when I spoke to him he was happy with the swing and perhaps dusting down some rust off his overall play,” Cowen said.
McIlroy is certain he has improved in the three months he has spent under Cowen’s tutelage and is plainly full of self-belief with the Open at Sandwich less than a fortnight away. “My iron play is much better,” he said. “I’m hitting it pin-high more. I’m hitting it with the right loft, the flight has come down. My wedges are better for the most part.”
Herbert has a two-shot lead over England’s Andy Sullivan and Grant Forrest, the pair shooting a 66 and 67 respectively.