Bogeyless round a crumb of comfort for McIlroy ahead of USPGA start
But indifferent spell of form and lack of fans a big worry Joy for Horsfield as he lands first European Tour title
Rory McIlroy shot just his second bogeyless round in the eight events he has contested in 2020, and that will give the Northern Irishman some confidence as he goes into the season’s first major.
Yet his journey to San Francisco for the US PGA Championship, which starts on Thursday, would hardly have been celebratory as he extended his worst run in more than three years.
Despite a 67, McIlroy finished on one under at the WGC-Fedex St Jude Invitational and outside the top 40 in Memphis, thus continuing his miserable patch since the PGA Tour resumed in June.
That last time McIlroy went five events without a top 10 was back in July, 2017.
And for a four-time major winner who went into the lockdown on the back of an 11-tournament streak featuring two wins, nine top-fives and 10 top-10s, this has been an unexpected indifferent spell.
Unsurprisingly, McIlroy has lost his world No 1 status during this downturn and he faces a huge challenge to resurrect his game in time for Harding Park.
The 31-year-old can grasp selfbelief from the fact that he prevailed over the municipal course at the 2015 World Golf Championship Matchplay but, of course, there
were huge crowds there on that occasion as he beat future US Open champion Gary Woodland 4&2.
During the lockdown, McIlroy expressed his fears that the prospective fan-less environment might not suit him.
Although there are clearly some technical issues – particularly with his wedge play and putting – he is a natural performer who forecast that he would struggle in the silent environs. “I could play without fans, but I don’t think I’d play as well,” McIlroy said in April.
“I reckon I would find it very difficult. I would feel flat, I would feel lethargic.
“I am so used to playing in front of people, especially when it means something.”
Tommy Fleetwood played alongside McIlroy in the final round at TPC Southwind and fared even better, firing a five-under 65 to move to three under.
This was only the Merseysider’s second event since coming back from his own four-month break and he will feel that he has blown away the rust before trying to break his major duck.
Sam Horsfield is not in the field at the USPGA, but how the 23-yearold Englishman will wish he was after winning his first European Tour title. At the Hero Open at the Forest of Arden, Horsfield achieved something which has always eluded his mentor, Ian Poulter,
Poulter, who tipped Horsfield for success from the age of 13, has recorded victories on five continents during his illustrious career, but the Ryder Cup legend has never won in his native England.
That prize was within Horsfield’s grasp as he took a one-shot lead into the final round at the Midlands venue and he held his nerve to card a closing 68 to finish on 18 under par, a shot ahead of Belgium’s Thomas Detry.
Detry had recorded his ninth birdie of the day on the 17th to move into the lead for the first time, only to bogey the last after seeing his par putt from three feet catch the edge of the cup and stay out.
That left Horsfield needing to play the last two holes in one under and he produced a stunning approach to the par-five 17th, a towering fairway wood from 233 yards over the water setting up a two-putt birdie from just over the green. A cautious tee shot on the last left Horsfield around 50 feet from the hole, but he safely two-putted for par and the glory.
“I can’t [describe my emotions], it’s crazy,” said Horsfield, who moved to Florida when he was five years of age.
“I made a bad bogey on the 15th. On the 17th ... I hit a great shot there. This is so special and it’s hard to take in right now.
“With everything that’s going on in the world right now I’m thankful that the European Tour has been able to put on tournaments for us to play in.
“I’ve been in Orlando for the last three months and I felt like my game was right there.”
Local hero: England’s Sam Horsfield shows off his trophy after winning the Hero Open