Frustration for Rory; head wreck for Harrington

Rory McIlroy reacts to his tee shot at the fifth. Picture Fran Caffrey www.golffile.ieRory McIlroy hoped for a scorching day by the seaside but ended up totally frustrated by another major flop.

Bidding to close a massive 12-shot gap on the leaders, the Ulsterman was gunning for some Saturday morning sunshine alongside two-time Open champion Padraig Harrington.

But walked off frustrated with a 73 and after finishing 40th in the Masters and then missing the cut on his US Open defence last month, the major season is turning out to be a nightmare for the pride of Holywood.

Stuck at the back of the field on five over, McIlroy groaned: “I’m just frustrated. I got off to a bad start and couldn’t really do much from there.

“It’s just lack of consistency with my swing and from there it’s tough. Whenever you’re not confident in the shots that you’re trying to hit, it’s tough to trust it.

“I’m frustrated. But that’s the way it is. That’s golf. And you just have to get on with it and keep trying and keep practising and stay patient until it turns around.”

McIlroy confessed that he’s lost all confidence in his swing and now has two weeks to find it before heading to Akron for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and then to Kiawah Island for the US PGA.

The world number two, 23, was hoping to get off to a red-hot start but instead three-putted the fourth, dropped another shot at the fifth and then missed a four footer for par at the fifth.

At five over par, all hopes of getting back into the mix were dead and buried with his shoulders slumped he dropped another shot at the 12th.

When he made his lone birdie of the day from eight feet at 16th - his first for 26 holes - he turned to caddie JP Fitzgerald and said: “I’m keeping that ball!”

Admitting later he found it tough to stay motivated, McIlroy said: “I was up for it this morning trying to go out there and post a good score.  

“But after playing the front nine like I did, you’re just trying to shoot the best score you can out there.  And for me today that was only a 73.”

McIlroy missed four cuts out of five before finishing tenth in the Irish Open two weeks ago but could not continue the upward trend on the Lancashire coast.

“To be honest, I’m getting used to it,” he said. “The last few weeks haven’t been so great.

“I just have to keep working hard and working away, and hopefully it will turnaround sometime.

“It’s disappointing because every tournament or every major that you don’t play well in or you don’t win is a chance missed.”

Padraig Harrington tried hard to keep his game together on Saturday. Picture Fran Caffrey Harrington battled to shoot a level par 70 and confessed that McIlroy’s frustration was understandable.

“We both were hoping to find the magic potion and that we’d go out there and shoot two 64’s out there on the weekend,” he said of their Friday evening practice session. “In the end a 70 was a steal - a 69 would have been a miracle.  I was really at sixes and sevens with my game.  

“I got on the range yesterday and got something in my head and just really, really struggled with it today. I didn’t show much trust, faith or confidence in anything out there.  So it was nice that my short game saved me.”

McIlroy, however, never got going.

“At the end of the day Rory was looking for a fast start and he didn’t get it,” Harrington said. “When my game went away from me I was still hanging in there but he didn’t get the fast start and things went against him.

“By the time we got to the 16th tee we’d made one birdie between us.  We just didn’t bounce off each other.”

Harrington needed a top five at Royal Lytham to get back into the world’s top 50 and earn a place in the $8.5m WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron in two weeks’ time.

Now he’s up against it in his bid for a seventh Ryder Cup cap and will instead chase qualifying points in the clashing $3m Reno-Tahoe Open.

Victory in the US PGA would solve all his problems but he’ll have a warm up in Nevada first, joking: “It’s the biggest little city in America. Here I come, Reno-Tahoe.”

Harrington got off to a good start with a birdie at the second but confessed that his head was elsewhere after a poor finish to his round on Friday, when he bogeyed four of the last eight holes.

He spent the rest of that afternoon trying to get his head back in the right place but failed despite spending 90 minutes each with mental coach Bob Rotella and swing coach Pete Cowen.

“I’d say I spent an hour and a half with Bob Rotella working on my mental game,” Harrington said. “When that didn’t fix it, I spent about an hour and a half working with Pete Cowen trying to fix it.

“I was working on my wedge play to get my shoulder square at impact  squarer at impact, so that they weren’t as open.  So I wasn’t dragging the club as much and using the bounce better and getting a squarer divot that wasn’t so deep so my balls would start more on line than a little left.

“I did everything right up until yesterday afternoon, and it was the last throw of the dice yesterday afternoon.  The preparation was very good this week.  My head was in the right place this week.  All things good.  I just didn’t hit my wedges good enough the first two days.  And in an effort to get that back on track, there really wasn’t enough time.  I kind of messed with my head a bit.”

Harrington birdied the second from around seven feet but duffed a chip at the eighth to drop a shot and then battled brilliantly to par his way to the 16th.

He holed a 35 footer for birdie at the 17th to set up the chance of a 69 but cut his tee shot into sand at the last, splashed back to the fairway and missed a 10 footer for par.

“The long game has been good,” he said of his efforts to balance his work on his long game with short game practice. “I think it has potential to be better, always potential to be better.  But it’s a constant juggling act to try to keep all those balls in the air. 

“And definitely one of them had fallen yesterday.  In an effort to get it back up there, my head  my mind was far too active today.  I was thinking too much.  I wasn’t settled.  I didn’t know what I was thinking at times out there.”