Ahead of next week’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, the form of some of the leading players is a concern.
World No1 Dustin Johnson is certainly losing some of his early-season heat, having missed the cut in his last two tournaments – the US Open and the Memorial. Johnson’s poor show in Jack Nicklaus’ event could be an aberration, having had his second child at the start of that week.
Rory McIlroy has fallen to No4 in the world order as his stop-start season due to his rib injury continues. The 2014 Open champion could not make it to the weekend in last week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, a tournament he hosts, and also at the US Open. In between, a sparkling final-round 64 catapulted him to tied 17th place at the Travelers Championship, a tournament where he famously used three different putters.
And then there is Jason Day. The Australian, who revealed earlier this year that his mother is terminally ill, can be rightfully excused if he has other things on his mind than golf.
Compared to his amazing run from the 2015 Open onwards, 2017 has been poor with just two top-10s and he comes into the third major of the season on the back of two missed cuts.
Even though there seems to be genuine reasons for the sudden slump in the form of these superstars, the time is now right for them to pull up their socks as we reach the business end of the season. July, August and September are three huge months in golf – with two of the four majors, one World Golf Championship event and the FedEx Cup Playoffs all coming one after the other.
The links course at Royal Birkdale will provide a different kind of test for the players. While McIlroy has had success in the past, Johnson and Day have been consistent at best without being spectacular. The American has three previous top-10s, including a tied second in 2011, while the Aussie has struggled and has only a tied fourth place in the 2015 Open to show as a decent outing.
Both Johnson and Day are not playing this week again, but McIlroy is at Dundonald Links for the Scottish Open.
The Northern Irishman has made the right decision in adding the tournament to his schedule. He desperately needs some more time out on the course, having played only nine tournaments in the first half of the year – at least four fewer than in previous years.
Defending champion Henrik Stenson is also not in his usual solid form, although this is the period of the year when he usually turns it around.
Based purely on current form, the top favourites would be Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Tommy Fleetwood.
Another one bites the dust
If Phil Mickelson and Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay parting ways last month came as a surprise, the split between Lee Westwood and his manager Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler is an even bigger shock.
The 44-year-old English golfer and agency International Sports Management (ISM) were together for more than 25 years. Westwood was one of Chandler’s first signings, immediately after the ex-Tour player formed the company in 1989. The former world No1 is joining IMG.
Westwood, who was believed to be part owner of Chandler’s company along with Darren Clarke, had several joint business interests with his manager, including owning champion race horses.
Both parties have remained silent on the reasons for the split.
Rory McIlroy’s British Open preparations were in disarray Friday after the former world number one missed the cut at the Irish Open.
McIlroy was one under for his round with two holes to play but a double-bogey six on the 17th ended any chance of his playing all four days, leaving him one-over-par 73 for the second round.
That saw the current world number four four shots shy of the projected three under cut-off mark in the $7 million event.
It was the second time in three years the defending Irish Open winner had missed the halfway cut and the fourth occasion in the past five years McIlroy will sit out the weekend rounds in the premier Irish event.
“My short game in general is not good as I am making silly mistakes, so it is not good,” he said.
“Today, I was four yards short of the green on 16 but then managing to get it up-and-down from there from the middle of the fairway, so little stuff like that is so huge for momentum.
“I am just not being very efficient with my scoring and that is why I am making it difficult for myself.”
McIlroy struggled tee-to-green, hitting only half of the 14 fairways, and for a second day running took 33 putts on the greens.
As the event host, McIlroy will remain over the weekend to hand the trophy to the new champion.
He will then cross the Irish Sea on Monday in readiness for next week’s Scottish Open and follow up with the British Open a week later at Royal Birkdale.
American Daniel Im added a second round 67 to move to the clubhouse lead on 13-under par with Spanish sensation Jon Rahm muscling his way to second and just a shot behind after also signing for a 67.
Rahm, who contested the first two rounds alongside McIlroy, capped his round with a fifth hole eagle.
World No. 2 Hideki Matsuyama, and the third member of the McIlroy’s group, was also in contention in adding a 68 to move to nine under par.
Also at nine under was fellow Japan golfer, Hideto Taninhara who produced a bogey free seven under par 65.
Former champion Rory McIlroy found form too late to avoid a second consecutive missed cut in the US Open, but was able to take some positives from his display at Erin Hills.
Playing just his seventh tournament of the year due to a rib injury, McIlroy left himself a mountain to climb following a first round of 78 on Thursday, when a record 44 players broke par.
And despite carding four birdies in his last six holes for a 71 on Friday, the four-time major winner saw his own pre-event prediction come true, having said on Tuesday that anyone who could not hit the wide fairways ”might as well pack your bags and go home”.
“I showed up for the last six holes, anyway,” said McIlroy, who won at Congressional in 2011 with a record 16-under-par total, but is now a combined 55 over par for his other eight US Open appearances.
“I definitely hit it better off the tee. I think I hit 11 fairways other than the five I did (on Thursday). But I think at the end of the day it’s competitive rounds with a card in my hand that I need and I’ve been very light on them this year.
“I saw some positives there on the back nine coming in and hopefully I can take them to the Travelers (Championship) next week. I’m excited to get on a run of golf and get going.”
McIlroy worked with his coach Michael Bannon on making a smoother transition from the top of his backswing and although he was three over par after 12 holes, birdies on the fourth, fifth, seventh and ninth ended the week on a high.
“Even though it’s very disappointing to not be here on the weekend, I think these last two rounds will serve me well going into the summer,” added the 28-year-old, who has added the Scottish Open to his schedule in between the Irish Open and Open Championship.
“I started to let it go a little bit on the back nine and showed what I can do. It didn’t matter at that point because I was so far from the cut line, but at least I know it’s in there, it’s just a matter of getting it out of me and getting myself in the right frame of mind.
“(On Thursday), coming off an injury, I was a little anxious going out there. I got off to a good start, but it sort of caught up with me as the round went on. I think the more rounds I can play, I’m hopefully going to get rid of all that stuff and hopefully strip it down to what you saw the last six holes.
“I’ve got a busy summer, so I’m excited to play a lot of golf. I feel like that’s going to help me to get back into contention and hopefully try to win some of these things.
“I’m hungry, but I’m not going to force it. I’m going to let it happen. I know if I go out and play the golf I’m capable of, good things should happen.”