Another Jekyll and Hyde week for McIlroy

Another Jekyll and Hyde week for McIlroy
Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy continued his Jekyll and Hyde start to the season with a three-over 73 in the Honda Classic that featured flashes of his undoubted class but also revealed areas that need work as the countdown to the first major of the season continues.

He played his last 10 holes in three-under par, rattling in four birdies and missing just two fairways and two greens.

But he can only be wondering why he hit just only one fairway and one green in his first eight holes, frittering away six shots in a nightmarish five-hole stretch from the fourth en route to a three-over 73 that leaves him tied 63rd on seven-over.

As England's Tommy Fleetwood said after closed with a stunning eagle three, his second eagle of the day in a 67 that leaves him two shots behind Luke List in a tie for fourth on five-under, courses like PGA National's Champion's layout either boost your self-esteem or expose chinks in your armour. 

"It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game," said Fleetwood, who also played at Riviera Country Club last week, finishing tied 37th.

"I said it yesterday, whether you play really good or you play really bad, it's such a good judgment of where you are..."

Where is McIlroy?

After shooting 40-under par in Abu Dhabi and Dubai for his first eight rounds of the year, he's three-over for the 10 rounds he's played on the PGA Tour this year, breaking par in just three of them.

While his putting has been more hit than miss on greens that have been far from smooth, and he's shown he's got plenty of firepower, he was 189th for greens hit in regulation going into the Honda Classic and that statistic hasn't improved.

His wedge play continues to be a concern, not just from the rough but also from the fairway.

At the fourth, a flyer was to blame as he shot through the green and then lipped out for par from four and a half feet but at the 166-yard fifth his wedge was never enough club, and he stopped only inches from the water, and another bogey followed.

It was only McIlroy's good balance that stopped him falling into the water there as he teetered on the bank of the lake for his pitch.

But he was literally on his knees a few moments later as he missed the sixth fairway, got a flyer into a bush and failed to pull off a Seve Ballesteros style escape.

After making a double-bogey six there, he was clearly rattled and tugged an attempted high cut with an eight iron into the left rough at the seventh and dropped another shot.

Then at the eighth, he had 128 yards to the flag from the centre of the fairway and found a greenside bunker with his approach with a wedge.

While there was just one more bogey, caused by a pulled drive that forced him to chip back into play at the 11th, and four superb birdies, McIlroy knows he's giving away too many shots with average wedge play.

After all, he's ranked first on tour from the 175-200 yard range (average distance from the pin 23'5") and 44th from between 50 and 125 yards (20'2").

If the objective in playing eight events before the Masters was to get into contention and test his game in the heat of battle before the big test, the great play in the Middle East will be distant memory if he doesn't start showing more consistency in the Valspar Championship, the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill or in Austin, Texas at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

As for Shane Lowry, he will be watching next week's WGC-Mexico Championship from afar after a third round 75 left him tied for last on 10-over par.

The Clara man needed a win in his adopted Palm Beach Gardens to qualify and with just one top-10 finish in an individual event in 25 starts in the US since he was tied second in the 2016 US Open, he has work to do if he's to qualify for the Masters.

At the top end of the leaderboard, List shot a four-under 66 to lead by a stroke from last year's Player of the Year Justin Thomas (65) and former US Open champion Webb Simpson (66) on seven-under-par 203.

"I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine," List said. "It's kind of nice having Tiger in the field now because he takes all the attention off everybody else, so you can just kind of go out and do your own thing."

Woods shot 69 — his first sub-70 score in 12 rounds since he returned to action after back surgery— but while he finished with a birdie and hit the ball with good speed, he bogeyed the 15th and 17th, bailing out both times.

"I've got a shot going into tomorrow," said Woods, who is seven shots behind List on level par, tied for 11th.

He lamented his lack of luck on the greens but knows that the chances of shooting a 62, as he did in 2012 to put the fear of God in Rory McIlroy's run to victory that year, is not likely on a very firm and punishing PGA National.

"It's just a different golf course," Woods said. "Back during that day, it was softer. That number could be had. These conditions, it's tough. It really is tough to get anything going. It's pretty evident; you have this many players, and the lowest round is 65. That shows you how hard it is."

McIlroy knows that too.

Since he closed with a 74 to tie for second in 2014, he's gone 73, 74, 72, 72, 72, 73 at the Champion Course.

Fleetwood has better vibes after he holed out from the fourth fairway for an eagle two and finished with a birdie on the 16th and an eagle at the 18th, hitting a 282-yard approach to eight feet, en route to a 67 that leaves him tied for fourth place with Jamie Lovemark (68) on five-under.

Sweden's Alex Noren, another player with good form this year, also shot 65 to sit alone in sixth, three shots off the lead.