Old reliables work for Harrington as McIlroy's falter at Quail Hollow

Rory McIlroy in action at Quail Hollow earlier this week.Padraig Harrington’s short game was back to its brilliant best but Rory McIlroy’s long game abandoned him in the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow.

Joking to a group of reporters that included ESPN’s Bob Harig following his first injury free round since Houston, the Dubliner seemed happy to have something positive to talk about for a change after dropping just one shot in a three under 69. 

“It’s nice to be wanted,” Harrington said with a grin.

McIlroy, on the other hand, struggled with his long game and shot a three over 75 in his first US appearance since the Masters.

If only he’d listen to his coach 79-year old swing coach Bob Torrance, trust what he has and get back to basics.

Some serious practice range work with Torrance in Dublin last week appears to have worked wonders for Harrington’s psyche. He didn’t hit the ball very well yesterday but he scrambled brilliantly, taking just 24 putts in a round featuring four birdies and just one bogey.

“I’m continuing to go forward with what I’m doing,” Harrington said. “I continually see my coach. So there’s nothing changing.”

Whatever about “continually”, Harrington needs Torrance to keep him from going down too many blind alleys with his swing. As it is, he’s fallen out of the world’s top 40 and will fall again next week if he doesn’t build on a decent opening round and stick around until Sunday.

Five strokes behind first-round leader Bill Haas, Harrington explained that the neck injury he suffered at the Masters was a blow to his progress this season, leading to missed cuts in the Masters and the Volvo China Open.

“I was in good form a few weeks ago until I got injured at the Masters,” Harrington said. “There is no doubt that set me back. I felt I was playing well at Houston going in there. It’s been hard to get all parts of the game working. It was a little scratchy today so it was nice to score well.”

ESPN man Harig phoned venerable Scot Torrance to get his view on Harrington’s game. Turns out, it all comes down to putting. If the three time major winner is holing putts, it doesn’t matter where he hits the ball, he’ll make a score somehow.

“He just needs to get his mind clear,” Torrance said. “He’s playing fine. He’s just not scoring. One thing I know, he’ll work to overcome it.”

As for the slew of changes to his takeaway and other related items over the winter, Harig reports that Torrance has told Harrington to “get back to basics.”

“I tell him, ‘Get your mind clear, your swing is magnificent,’” Torrance told him.

The basics eluded McIlroy as he began his title defence with a sloppy 75 that featured 32 putts. But while the Ulsterman started working with Dave Stockton on his routine, not his stroke on Monday, his problems did not come on the greens.

“The story of the day for me is I really didn’t hit it very well, which is unlike me,” McIlroy said. “It’d be the strength of my game and today I just wasn’t striking it well. My timing was off just a little bit.”

McIlroy said he was getting ahead of the ball and blocking shots to the right. So he headed to the range to work on his swing, having spent time with Stockton working on his putting on Monday and Tuesday.

According to Golf.com:

McIlroy said they just worked on his routine and how to approach a putt, and didn’t really work on his mechanics at all.

“I just wanted to see him this week,” McIlroy said after his round, giving no indication it was a long-term partnership. “My putting at Augusta, really the whole week at Augusta, wasn’t what it should have been.”

According to Steve Elling at CBSsports.com:

The work wasn’t exactly major, but it was designed to help implement a bit more feel into McIlroy’s hot-and-cold putting touch. If McIlroy becomes a more consistent putter, especially under pressure, the top guns had better duck. He’s already ranked No. 6 in the world and he just turned 22 on Wednesday.

“He helped me more with my routine without really getting into the stroke at all,” McIlroy said.

Stockton and his son, Dave Jr., have become the hottest short-game guys in the business, working to help a slew of players on the greens, including Phil Mickelson, J.B. Holmes and too many other prominent tour winners to mention.

As for the tournament, Haas shot an eight under 64 to lead by two shots from Jonathan Byrd and David Toms with Harrington tied for 11th place with the likes of Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson.

McIlroy finished the day tied for 107th, three shots outside the cut mark. He made the weekend with nothing to spare last year and went on to win the tournament with a closing 62

Making his first US appearance since his unfortunate final round at the Masters on his last US appearance three weeks ago, you get the impression he’d be happy just to be around for the weekend this time.