Rory McIlroy battles his game and the wind on brutal day in the desert
Rory McIlroy’s self-analysis said it all. “I have absolutely no idea,” replied the world No 8 when asked about the state of his game following a second-round 75 at the Abu Dhabi Championship.
A converted birdie putt at the 18th should, barring something extraordinary from those due to finish round two on Saturday morning, be enough to afford him another 36 holes to assess over the weekend.
This was a curiously brutal desert day. Winds whipped consistently at 20mph and gusted at close to double that. The challenge was not at all what McIlroy and friends had in mind when opting to begin their competitive year at Yas Links.
The scene was far from everyone’s cup of tea. “An absolute joke. Ridiculous,” barked Colin Montgomerie as he marched towards his penultimate tee. Either Monty was railing against the course condition or a sand ant had moved at an inappropriate moment as he played the previous hole.
McIlroy was more pragmatic – the course at no point appeared unplayable – but acknowledged a weird afternoon at the office. “It’s different,” McIlroy said. “I can’t remember when it’s been like this here. I played in a couple of sandstorms in Dubai and a couple of mornings it’s been cold in Abu Dhabi but nothing like this.
“I have played as thought-free as possible and played the conditions with the shots that I needed to play. I thought I drove it all right. A couple of iron shots got away from me but apart from that, I didn’t feel like I did all that badly. I think my sort of lost shots have been around the greens mostly the last couple days.”
At plus three, McIlroy is 10 shots from the lead held by Scott Jamieson, who added a 74 to day one’s stunning 63. “It’s windier than Scotland,” smiled the Glaswegian. “It was cold today, as well. This isn’t what I expected. I knew it was going to be windy but thought it would still be short sleeves.
“It’s a great test from tee to green, if you want to call it a test, at the mercy of whatever gust you might or might not get. You play for some wind sometimes and don’t get it, and when your ball defies gravity and goes up slopes at times. I am pretty happy with two over par today.”
Viktor Hovland, Ian Poulter and James Morrison have Jamieson in their sights from six under. Morrison is among those with an incomplete second round, having reached the 15th tee when darkness halted proceedings. It was no shock to watch Poulter relishing his battle with the elements.
“You don’t get to play in this kind of wind very often, especially when you’ve had nine weeks off and it’s never going to be this windy in the off-season, so you don’t really go and practise in it,” he said. “To get this thrown at you early in the season is tricky.
“It’s been a while since you’ve had to hit those type of shots. In a way, it’s actually quite nice. We’ve played them in the past, chip-in seven-irons from 120 yards and hitting three-woods from 217. You’ve got to go into the archive and sort of try and remember some of the shots you’ve played back then.”
Collin Morikawa should, like McIlroy, survive the cut by a shot. Among those definitely heading for early exits are Robert MacIntyre – who followed up a 69 with a wounding 80 – and Nicolai Højgaard.