Rory McIlroy’s remarkable comeback from his Masters meltdown reached new heights in Kuala Lumpur on Friday when he shot an eight under par 64 to share the halfway lead in the Malaysian Open.
The 21-year old has insisted all week that others are more shattered that he is by the final round 80 that cost him the green jacket at Augusta National.
Not many believed him. But after a sensational showing over the first two days, everyone must now accept that he’s proved emphatically that he is a different breed.
What happens next is anyone’s guess and it hardly matters too much. It is not unsual to see McIlroy near the top of the leadboard after the first two rounds of a European Tour event and while it’s unlikely, given his record that he will still be there on Sunday night, his performance over the first two days in Malaysia is truly impressive.
On Sunday he referenced the experiences of tour friends Dustin Johnson and Nick Watney, who led going into the final rounds of last year’s US Open and the US PGA only to implode with rounds of 82 and 81 respectively.
Compared to McIlroy, they took an absolute age to recover.
Johnson didn’t play the following week and then missed the cut on his return in the AT&T National. He suffered a similar disappointment in the US PGA at Whistling Straits, where he was penalised for unwittingly grounding his club in a bunker on the 72nd holed. He thought was a waste area but his bogey became a triple and he missed out on a place in the play-off by two shots.
Johnson won the BMW Chamionship three weeks later, while Watney, who shot 81 to slip from first to 18th at Whistling Straits, finished 36th, 33rd, 15th and fourth in the FedEx Cup events that followed the final major of the season.
McIlroy has put himself right back into the heat of battle and should he win his third professional title tomorrow, he will have performed a feat of mental strength that ranks alongside Bernhard Langer’s 1991 German Masters win.
The German missed a six foot putt on the final green of the final singles in the 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island, allowing Hale Irwin a half that helped the US regain the trophy.
It was a bitterly disappointing result for Europe and Langer. But to the amazement of everyone, the then 34-year old travelled home to Germany to host the German Masters in Stuttgart the following week and shot rounds to 68, 72, 67 and 68 before beat Australia’s Rodger Davis in a play-off.
With his rounds of 68 and 64, McIlroy has already done enough to prove that he is no ordinary golfer, though he still insists that he has nothing to prove to himself this week.
“It would show more to everyone else rather than myself that last week didn’t set me back,” McIlroy said after a bogey free round that left him tied at the top with Sweden’s Alex Noren on 11-under par.
“I’ve started this week off great but I need to keep going and making birdies and shooting low scores if I want to win.
“Eleven under after two days here is a great effort considering I’ve travelled so far and not seeing the course. I’m happy with how I played.”
Starting on the back nine early in the day, McIlroy took advantage of smooth greens to race to the turn in 31 after birdies at the 10th, 12th, 13th, 16th and 17th before picking up three more shots at the third, fifth and eighth.
“I never really put myself under any pressure out there,” he said. “I got it up and down on the 11th, my second hole, for a par and then after that it was pretty good.
“The greens were a lot better for us this morning. there wasn’t much grain and I was able to pick my line a bit better on the greens and luckily enough a few went in.”
Asked if he was surprised that he had played so well so far following his Augusta experience and a 30 hour trip from Georgia to Malaysia, he shook his head.
“Not really no. The way I played last week I was hitting it well and I just needed to get over the tiredness and the jetlag and I have been able to do that pretty well. I
“I am really happy with the way I have been playing. Everything has been really solid, hitting a lot of fairways, a lot of greens and giving myself a lot of chances.”
Given all he has been through over the past seven days, it appears inevitable that McIlroy will suffer some sort of physical or mental backlash over the weekend.
But as he head for the hotel after his second round, he said he was coping well with the jetlag.
“We got ready to go out for dinner last night and after I got out of the shower I was so tired I said I’ll just get room service. It’s tough but I got a good night’s sleep last night.
“I woke up a couple of times but I was able to sleep through until six this morning. I might go for a nap this afternoon and go to the gym this evening and hopefully I will get another good night’s sleep and get ready for tomorrow.
“I don’t mind the heat but my hands get really sweaty and it is hard to keep a grip of the club sometimes. You have to have sweat towel and towels here and towels there and make sure everything is dry. I sweat more than a lot of players so I have to make sure that my grips are dry and my hands are dry and sweat free.”
So far, it’s been no sweat.