Paul McGinley has often dipped into boxing parlance to describe his golfing battles over the course of a 17-year professional career.
But like a prize-fighter who has suffered a humiliating defeat, the “shattered” Dubliner confessed that his third round 79 was a massive “body blow” to his chances of becoming the first Irishman for 50 years to lift the prestigious BMW PGA Championship title at Wentworth today.
He wasn’t kidding.
After cruising four strokes clear of the field with a record 36-hole total, the 41-year old slowly wobbled onto his stool after 18 punishing holes with the muscular West Course to discover that he is five strokes adrift of the giant Swede Robert Karlsson entering the final round.
The Dubliner didn’t so much suffer a knock-out blow as a sickening series of sucker punches and with his pride seriously bruised by a round that was the second worst by the 70-strong field on a blustery third day, it would require an incredible feat of resilience to come back from such a horrendous mauling.
“It’s a cruel game golf sometimes, it brings you so high and then takes you so low,” said McGinley, who was under severe pressure from the time his two-iron tee shot ran under the lip of a fairway bunker at the first and he walked off with a double bogey six.
After bogeys at the third and fifth, his lead had disappeared completely and he found himself trailing. And while he lurched to the turn in three over par 38 to head Karlsson by a single stroke, he limped home in 41 as the 6 foot 5 inch Swede played the back nine in two under par 35 with birdies at the last two holes giving him a magnificent 70 and a four stroke lead on 111 under par.
“I was four-over after six and they were the easy holes, they were downwind holes and I knew the back nine was going to be tough,” McGinley added. “The game was tough on me today. It didn’t give me anything back. I mean I missed the green to the right on 18 and I’d no third shot and I couldn’t even put it on the green. It just was that type of day. Anything that could go wrong did go wrong.”
Asked if he could come back, McGinley was optimistic and realistic in equal measure. But the signs aren’t good.
“I certainly hope so,” he said. “I’m actually shattered. It’s taken a lot out of me today. I’ve got to regroup, analyse what happened and go at it again tomorrow. It’s a long way back, to be honest, it’s a real bodyblow.
“I don’t feel like I played horrendously badly. But I scored dreadfully. My short game was really poor today from the start. I didn’t really get any momentum at any stage.
“I can’t blame the weather. The golf course asked me and all the other golfers a lot of questions today and I didn’t produce the answers.”
Just three strokes behind Karlsson playing the last, McGinley finished with a bogey six as the Swede two putted comfortably for a birdie four to stretch his advantage.
McGinley, though, refused to make excuses, adding: “You had to produce a lot of good wind shots, which I didn’t; you had to chip and putt, which I didn’t, and you had to hole your opportunities for birdies, which I didn’t. I have no complaints about the golf course or conditions. The onus is on me.
Third in his last two European Tour starts, Karlsson can take a giant step towards retaining his Ryder Cup place if he claims the €750,000 winner’s cheque today.
His two under par 70 left him four strokes clear of the colourful Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez (72) and the promising Englishman Oliver Wilson (73) on 11 under par with McGinley tied for fourth place with the big hitting Argentinian Daniel Vancsik (72) and India’s Jyoti Randhawa (69) on six-under par.
It was a tough day all round for Ireland’s quartet of challengers with Peter Lawrie the only man to break par on a day when the average score was 73.4.
A two under par 70 left Lawrie tied for 31st place on one-under par with room-mate Damien McGrane, who slithered to 77 as the wind freshened considerably.
Out in the sixth group of the morning, when the greens were still on the receptive side, Lawrie had no hesitation in describing the finishing stretch as brutal.
“There could be a few cricket scores out there today,” Lawrie said prophetically. “There are no hiding spots. And that finish coming in is brutal.”
Graeme McDowell had just one birdie in 75 to slip to two-over par and confessed that he cannot continue to let the euro slip away if he is to make his Ryder Cup debut under Nick Faldo in September.
“These are big money weeks,” said McDowell, who is still in position to make the side. “And these are missed opportunities. I am not too unhappy with my game, but I have made a few small mistakes that have been costly.”