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

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By James Cor­ri­gan golf cor­re­spon­dent

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

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