Rory McIlroy has done his reputation no end of good in Kuala Lumpur this week by bouncing back from the bitter disappointment of a final round major championship disaster with an impressive display of mental fortitude. Unfortunately, he’s in a no-win situation.
While he insists that others are more upset than he is about what happened in Augusta, he could exorcise quite a few personal demons if he flies out with the Maybank Malaysian Open trophy tonight.
One of the reasons put forward by McIlroy’s management team for his closing 80 in the Masters was that he doesn’t have enough experience of winning because he doesn’t play enough golf.
Now that he’s leading by two shots with 27 holes to go in his 102nd professional event, anything less than victory will be regarded by any number of unreasonable people as another example of the Ulsterman’s failure to get the job done under pressure in even a “second tier” event. The presence of world No 1 Martin Kaymer will be forgotten unless he’s the one who denies McIlroy.
The critics will say that while McIlroy has two professional wins, the first came after a major wobble down the stretch at the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic.
This is true. It’s also true that his second win simply served to heap more pressure on his shoulders.
A closing, 10 under par 62 at Quail Hollow last year gave him a four-shot victory over Phil Mickelson just two days before his 21st birthday. But as he waited for McIlroy to finish off his maiden PGA Tour win, Padraig Harrington put the youngster’s plight in perspective.
“At home, no matter how he does, the focus is on him,” Harrington said. “When you’re not winning, not delivering, the focus becomes a burden. If he can get across the line here, he can go from strength to strength. He will be a lot more comfortable with who he is, a lot more patient. The win is significant - very significant - at this time.”
McIlroy can now erase the “at home” line from Harrington’s quote. And his insistence that he is not as upset as others with his Masters meltdown is either an endorsement of Harrington’s belief that he has earned enough credit to be patient or a much needed pressure release valve.
In the words of the popular sit-com philosopher Charlie Sheen, a Malaysian win would be the equivalent of “bi-winning”. A loss, on the other hand, would be “bi-losing.”
Co-leader with Alexander Noren on 11 under at halfway, McIlroy did not get to start his third round until late on Saturday afternoon following a rain delay of almost three and a half hours.
When he eventually got to play, he made eight pars and then birdied the ninth from 10 feet before lack of light ended proceedings for the day.He played well but certainly not as spectacularly as he did in Friday morning’s 64.
Despite his slow afternoon, the scoreboard showed that he was two clear of Noren, Gregory Bourdy and the 17-year old Italian Matteo Manassero on 12 under with world No 1 Martin Kaymer lurking just three behind after 15 holes on his third round.
As if that list of challengers wasn’t enough, McIlroy will be battling mental and physical fatigue when he resumes at 7.40am for what could be one of the most trying days of his fledgling career.
“I’ve still got the lead but it is going to be a long day tomorrow,” McIlroy said after ending a frustrating Saturday on a positive note.
“You’ve got to make every shot count out there. 27 holes in that heat tomorrow is going to be tough. I’ve got myself into a good position going into tomorrow and that’s all that counts.”