Rory McIlroy’s Masters build-up suffered a setback in Los Angeles where his record streak ended with a first missed cut in almost two years.
The Irishman never looked like qualifying for the final two rounds of the Genesis Open, as he struggled to a 76 for a desultory seven-over total. McIlroy, 31, was miles off the mark, leaving a tournament prematurely for the first time since the 2019 Open at Royal Portrush.
Up until this demise, McIlroy’s 30 consecutive weekends had been the longest active run on the two main men's tours.
The consolation for falling short so emphatically was that McIlroy did not have to wait around and could immediately exit the gates at Riviera Country Club on to Sunset Boulevard and to the airport for a private jet back to his Florida home.
McIlroy will be deeply frustrated, however. After finishing third in his opening event of the year - the Abu Dhabi Championship - he was confident that he had left behind the mediocre form that has dogged him since the golf resumed from the lockdown last June.
This error-strewn display - featuring eight bogeys and a double-bogey in his 36 holes - came on the back on a tie for 13th and a tie for 16th in his first two PGA Tour events of 2021, and although it is hardly panic stations, McIlroy will be eager to put himself back on track at the WGC Workday Championship, a three-hour drive west of his Jupiter base, that starts on Thursday.
McIlroy is also due to play in the following week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando and then, in the final week of the “Florida Swing”, at The Players Championship, where he will attempt to become the first player in history to retain the Tour’s flagship title. With the World Match Play in Austin also to come, McIlroy has plenty of competitive action to fix the wrongs, before arriving at Augusta in seven weeks’ time for yet another shot at completing the career grand slam.
McIlroy’s tournament was essentially over when he stepped on to the par-four eighth, his penultimate hole, and, by then, he was likely figuring out his travel schedule. But the six on the par-four summed up what must be classed as his worst show in a long time.
He pulled his drive, but only had 90 yards to the pin. From an iffy lie, he came up short of the green. McIlroy “fatted” his third and saw it roll back down the hill. He chipped to eight feet with his fourth but could not rescue a bogey. Sloppy in the extreme.
At the other end of the leaderboard, the first-round leader, American Sam Burns, shot a 66 to move to 12-under and into a five-shot lead over a group in second including world No 1 Dustin Johnson.
And having finished fourth and third in the previous two weeks, Jordan Spieth is threatening another charge for his first title in almost four years carding a second successive 68 to move to six-under.
Genesis Open Leaderboard: Top 10 after round 2
USA unless stated
1. S Burns -12
T2. D Johnson -7
T2. J Niemann (Chile) -7
T2. T McCumber -7
T2. J Kokrak -7
T6. W Clark -6
T6. M Homa -6
T6. J Spieth -6
T9. P Cantlay -5
T9. M Fitzpatrick (England) -5
Round one report (Thursday 18 February)
Two years ago, Willie Mack III stood by the side of the freeway with his golf clubs over his shoulder and cowered as his car blew up. Everything he owned - apart from his precious sticks that he immediately grabbed from the boot when he realised his Kia had suddenly caught fire - were in that burning wreck.
There was a very good reason for that. For two years, the struggling pro had lived in his car as he scratched around the mini tours trying to scratch a living and emulate his hero and fellow African-American Tiger Woods by making it to the big time. A long hard road, does not begin to describe it.
On Thursday, the only thing on fire was the 32-year-old’s putter as he played his way to the fringes to first-round contention at the Genesis Open, shooting a one-under 70 to stand alongside the likes of world No 2, Jon Rahm and better Rory McIlroy’s opening by three strokes. Mack is now promising to make the cut and pull off one of the game’s more remarkable tales.
With all respect to Sam Burns' excellence - the Texan resident shooting a seven-under 64 to take a two-shot lead in Los Angeles - it was the first round of Mack sending Riviera Country Club into distraction. The world No 1,829 is only in Tinsel Town because of an invite from Woods, the tournament host.
The 15-time major-winner is not playing because of a back injury, but he vowed to keep a close eye on Mack’s progress. “Willie has endured through difficult times off the course,” Woods posted on Twitter.
Willie has endured through difficult times off the course the past few years and I know Charlie would be proud of how he has stayed focused on achieving his dream. @thegenesisinv https://t.co/QrKjueiGJp
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) January 19, 2021
Of course, Woods knew he was dealing in understatement. A son of a single-parent social worker, Mack earned a sponsorship at a black college, but with finances beyond tight there was a paucity of funds to fuel the dream. Hence the bed in the back seat. Yet Mack persevered and became somewhat of a prolific champion on the mini-tours and, although a few trips to Q-School were unsuccessful, he was convinced that if he kept on pressing, a chance would come. And here it is.
Mack actually made his PGA Tour debut at Torrey Pines last month when his friend from the Advocates Pro Golf Association Kamaiu Johnson was diagnosed with Covid19 on the eve of the Farmers Insurance Open. Grateful, but woefully underprepared and playing with what was later found to be a cracked driver, Mack missed the cut. “This week will see the proper ‘me’,” he said on Wednesday.
And with five birdies he was certainly true to his vow. Can he make the cut on Friday? Imagine being in his spikes? The last tournament he played in he won £200 - and the entry fee was roughly £80. If he makes the cut today, the least Mack will collect is £55,000. And his entry fee was a only nod from Tiger.
“I'm out here trying to win like everybody else,” Mack said. “I tee it up just like everybody else, so why not come out here and try to win?”