Jack Nicklaus told Rory McIlroy “we have to sit down and chat sometime” after the world No 3 made seven bogeys in an horrendous 75 that saw him fall from first into a tie for seventh at the Memorial tournament yesterday.
Nicklaus, the 18-time major winner who promotes the $20 million tournament at Muirfield Village, Ohio, shakes the hand of all the players behind the 18th green. But never before has he been so pointed when doing the obligatories as he was with McIlroy.
In his pre-tournament press conference, Nicklaus bemoaned McIlroy’s propensity to follow a run of low numbers with ruinous holes, but this was more of a steady and unrelenting drip as he made three bogeys in four holes from the fifth and then three in a row from the 12th. McIlroy also bogeyed the 17th before Nicklaus made his kind offer.
The problem was the exchange was captured live on TV and is probably the last thing McIlroy needs – in this of all seasons. After missing the cut at the Masters, McIlroy left himself liable for a $3 million penalty for skipping the next week and he then returned explaining it was for his “mental health”.
McIlroy produced a battling tie for seventh and although he was in deep contention in the Memorial, another top 10 should probably be seen as a positive considering his technical problems.
He defends his Canadian Open title this week, before the US Open. McIlroy has a lot to sort out, although he is remaining positive.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “I feel a little better about everything compared to where I was a couple weeks ago at Oak Hill. So it’s obviously not the result that I wanted today, but I feel like there were a few more positives than there were a couple weeks ago.”
Viktor Hovland eventually received the fabled clasping of hand with Nicklaus after the Norwegian beat American Denny McCarthy in a play-off.
The Norwegian’s win was great news for Europe Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald. Hovlad is established in the world’s top 10 and will be a huge part of the blue and gold challenge to deny the US their first away Ryder Cup win in 30 years. McIlroy might not have won, but his hometown of Holywood (population 12,000) could still celebrate due to the victory of Tom McKibbin.
The 20-year-old has long been signposted as the great Holywood sequel to McIlroy and his two-shot win in the Porsche European Open added the substance to all the hype as he became the youngest Irish winner on Tour since McIlroy in Dubai in 2009.
And McKibbin’s shot to the 18th green at the Green Eagle course in Hamburg would grace McIlroy’s highlights reel. “I watched every shot this morning – I was really happy for him,” McIlroy said. “For a 20-year-old he showed so much composure. We’ve all known from back home the potential that he has, but I think to break through and win at that age shows there’s a bright future ahead. I’m so happy and so proud of him. I’ve known Tom since he was 10 years old and to see his progression and see where he is today and get that first win in Europe is really cool.”
McKibbin was one shot ahead playing the par-five last and when he pushed his drive to leave his ball behind a tree the obvious second shot was to chip out. But McKibbin went for the green more than 200 yards in the distance over a water hazard, conjuring his ball to within 15 feet and the resulting two-putt saw him record a 70 to reach nine-under, two shots ahead of home favourites Marcel Siem and Max Kieffer, as well as France’s Julien Guerrier. “Rory has always been great, it’s all so casual with him,” McKibbin said.
“When we go and play, it’s just two guys going out and playing golf together. He’s given me advice through the years but it’s advice for that time. “Look, I’ve heard the comparison [with Rory] since I’ve been nine or 10 years old so if anything, it’s got a little old now. It’s still a compliment being compared to Rory. I’ve been compared to him a lot since I’ve been young and of course it’s a compliment. He’s so good, one of the best golfers ever. “But it doesn’t change me. I probably thought it was so cool when I was younger, but now I’m just Tom, and I’m going to do my own thing.”