On the face of it, HSBC might not have been too thrilled to pay millions in appearance money to Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy and then watch them miss the cut in spectacular fashion.
But if they were looking for publicity, the banking giants could not have wished for better car-crash TV that McIlroy’s giant flop in his first competitive event since signing for Nike. Or the way Woods played so poorly, hauling himself back from the abyss only to be slapped with a two-stroke penalty for a rules infringement. It was certainly not a good week for Nike, given the confessions of cheating by their former star Lance Armstrong on Oprah.
Woods was informed of his faux-pas by tournament referee Andy McFee rather than his old pal, “I’m Sorry John Got In The Way Of Such A Great Battle” Paramor.
Either way, it was a week to remember. The last time the world No 1 and No 2 missed the cut in the same event? By my reckoning it was last year’s US Open at Olympic Club, when McIlroy was No 2 to Luke Donald.
In McIlroy’s case, that week was the nadir of last summer’s “mini slump” which he would gleefully bring to an end six weeks later with that eight-stroke, record-setting US PGA win at Kiawah Island.
This time he has four weeks off before he reappears in the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Arizona. What odds he draws a fellow Nike staff player, such as the current world No 70 Scott Jamieson when the top 64 available players from the world rankings meet at the Ritz Carlton Resort?
The naysayers will point to McIlroy’s brace of 75s, then point to his new Nike clubs and shake their heads. Who knows, Nick Faldo might well be wearing his “I told you so face” right now having called the equipment change a potentially “dangerous” move.
But it’s not that long ago that McIlroy shot two consecutive rounds over par. Last November he had the Race to Dubai in the bag and went out and shot rounds of 73 and 72 (five over) to miss the cut by three shots in the UBS Hong Kong Open. Like Abu Dhabi, it was an event where he had excelled in the past. He was 45 under par for his previous nine rounds at Fanling before turning up there with Caroline Wozniacki there that week.
The tennis playing Dane might just escape the blame this time, though he did confess to getting up at three in the morning on Tuesday to watch her beat Germany’s Sabine Lisicki in three sets in the first round of the Australian Open.
What added a little more spice to McIlroy’s poor play in Abu Dhabi is that having announced to the world at Monday’s dry ice and lasers Nike launch that all 14 clubs in his bag would be of the new brand this week, he jettisoned the Method putter after taking 31 putts with the new blade on Thursday, he had 30 putts with his old Scotty Cameron putter.
Quizzed about the terms of his contract and whether it gave him to freedom to use whatever putter he liked, McIlroy retorted: “I’m not here to talk about my contract, I am here to talk about my golf and today it wasn’t so good.”
He gave a similar response to a similar question at the Nike launch on Monday and the marketing executives at he Oregon-based firm will be praying that McIlroy is correct in his assessment of what went wrong this week.
“It’s the first week,” he said, referring to his new clubs, “so I wouldn’t read too much into it. If anything it’s more the Indian and the arrow at this point.
“I’ll work on the range for a few hours tomorrow and try to clear a few things up with my coach.”
Earlier he said:
“It was pretty much the same as yesterday,” McIlroy told reporters. “When you don’t hit the fairways on this course you can’t score.
“I didn’t drive the ball well, I didn’t putt well again and my iron play wasn’t anywhere near the standard that is usual for me. All aspects of my game were off.
“I’m also struggling with my swing a little bit. I feel like I’m spinning out of it a lot, hitting off the heel. I just need to put in a bit of work on the range,” said McIlroy.
In fairness to McIlroy, it’s been a trying week. Following the the official announcement of his multi-million dollar partnership with Nike on Monday and his central role in Paul McGinley’s election as European Ryder Cup captain the following day.
“I knew it was going to be a tough week with everything that’s been going on. I was looking forward to getting back to the course and doing what I’m comfortable with - it just didn’t work out like that.”
Explaining his reasons for changing putter on Friday, he said: “I just felt the greens I’ve been practising on in Florida are a lot faster than these ones here. The Nike putter is great on those.
“Here it’s a weight issue more than anything. I could feel the head of this heavier one I used today is a little better but even when I got the ball to the hole it didn’t go in so it was to no avail.”
Nike can take solace from the fact that McIlroy loves to prove his critics wrong. He did it at Congressional in 2011, winning the US Open by eight shots just 10 weeks after blowing the Masters. Last year, he missed four cuts in five weeks, culminating with his early departure on his US Open defence in San Francisco. He turned things around spectacularly by winning a Major and three other events in his next nine starts to finish the year as golf’s undisputed world No 1.
Returning at the WGC-Accenture Match Play might not be the best possible event, given the unpredictability of the format. But McIlroy would love nothing better than to slip into a green jacket in April and wag his fingers at his critics again.
As for Woods, the world No 2 also struggled with his game but looked certain to make the cut after a spirited fightback only to be handed a two-stroke penalty before he signed his card.
Woods had struck a wayward shot into a desert bush at the fifth and, after consulting playing partner Martin Kaymer, the pair agreed he should be allowed a free drop because it had become imbedded.
The regulations, however, only allow for a free drop in such circumstances if the ball has finished anywhere but in sand and Woods was therefore handed his penalty at the end of the round.
“It’s tough because I didn’t get off to a good start but I fought and got it back,” the 37-year-old American told reporters after a five became a triple bogey seven at the fifth and he eventually missed the cut by a stroke, posting a three-over-par 75 for a three-over tally of 147.
“I was right there and I felt if I was even-par overall I had a chance going into the weekend, being only eight back of the leader (Britain’s Justin Rose). Evidently it wasn’t enough.”
Rose, the world No 5, added a 69 to his opening 67 to lead by a shot from Irish Open champion Jamie Donaldson, Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen and Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez Castaño.
Gareth Maybin is the best of the Irish on two under (71-71) with Peter Lawrie and Pádraig Harrington in the middle of the pack on level par after posting 72s for the second day running.
Harrington’s statistics of 82nd for putts per green in regulation and seventh in putts per round tell the story of how he’s played so far.
Michael Hoey (72-73) made the two over par cut with a shot to spare but it was a short week for the rest of the Irish.
Ryder Cup skipper McGinley (76-72) missed the cut by three when he bogeyed his 16th (the seventh) and then double bogeyed the ninth.
Damien McGrane (76-74) shared 98th with McIlroy on six over with an out of sorts Shane Lowry (78-73) a shot further back.
As for Darren Clarke (79-74), the Ulsterman’s eventful week ended with him finishing 118th in the 122-man field on 10 over.