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McIlroy´s youthful exuberance could be a bad sign for Carnoustie contenders

20 Июль 2018 00:26

There's nothing wrong with a bit of youthful exuberance.

Indeed in golf, to be young is to be fearless. You haven't experienced first-hand what can truly go wrong; the mistakes that will inevitably come have not yet been made.

It is why a serene-looking Rory McIlroy spoke so keenly of wanting to tap into that mindset at Carnoustie this week.

The last time McIlroy played here at an Open in 2007 he was a wide-eyed teenager, his whole golfing career ahead of him. 

He may have been an amateur, but there was nothing unprofessional about his play. By the end of round one McIlroy was in a tie for third. Logic suggested it wouldn't last and lo and behold, he eventually slipped to five over par and a share of 42nd. 

But the memories of that occasion brought a smile to his face and perhaps lit a fire in the belly.

"I've alluded to the fact that I think sometimes I need to get back to that attitude where I play carefree and just happy to be here," he said when addressing the media this week.

"It was my first Open Championship. I was just trying to soak everything in and I was just so grateful to be here.

"And I think that's a big part of if you're happy in what you're doing and you're just happy to be here, I feel like a golf tournament is where I feel the most comfortable. It's where I feel like I can 100 per cent be myself and express myself.

"I look back at those pictures and the more I can be like that kid the better. I just think, as you get a little older, you get a little more cautious in life. I think it's only natural. I think it's more of that.

"It's more of playing with the freedom and, I don't want to say naive, but there is something nice about being young and being oblivious to some stuff.

"And I think that I remember back to when we last played The Open here, and, again, I was just happy to be here. I was bouncing down the fairways, didn't care if I shot 82 or 62. I was just happy to be here.

"The more I can get into that mindset, the better I'll play golf."

Eleven years have passed and much has changed. McIlroy is a four-time major champion now.

The last of those came at the end of a 2014 in which McIlroy climbed to the top of the world and offered promise of a sustained period of domination.

Since then, it has not quite happened for McIlroy in the majors. Perhaps that caution he spoke of has stemmed his natural attacking intent, and with it diminished the blissful ignorance of youth.

It seemed to much of the golfing world, for instance, that McIlroy would win the Masters this year. Starting the last round just three strokes back from Patrick Reed, many onlookers would have placed a sizeable wager given McIlroy's reputation as a man for the big occasion.

Of course, it ended in a damp squib from his perspective. Reed proved unflappable, McIlroy floundered to a tie for fifth.

But the early evidence at Carnoustie is that McIlroy is tapping back into that youthful, carefree mindset that he spoke so fondly of.

The baked conditions this week have created extremely quick fairways, putting the onus on accuracy rather than distance.

It has, for large parts of the field, urged caution. Take an iron off the tee, roll it down, pitch up, keep it in play.

McIlroy, though, is trusting his gut and the driver was a staple part of his round on Thursday. It meant he hit just 26.7 per cent of fairways.

But McIlroy vowed to stay aggressive.

"You know, it wasn't pretty off the tee, but I got it done, and I took advantage of some unfortunate bounces. I would have taken 69 to start the day," he said.

"Even if you play aggressive around here, you might make more bogeys than playing it safe, but you're going to make more birdies as well. You're going to give yourself more birdie looks.

"That's my game plan this week. I'm convinced that that's the way that I should play it. It's not going to be for everyone, but it worked out pretty well."

That confidence, that self-assuredness and that willingness to stick to his guns is a mindset that should be a worry to the rest of the field - after all, only three strokes separate McIlroy from leader Kevin Kisner.

If McIlroy sticks to that approach, and starts to find a few more fairways, then come Sunday the silver medal he won at Carnoustie in 2007 could be swapped for the Claret Jug. 

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17 Август 2018

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