When Rory McIlroy met the media on Wednesday after announcing his breakup with fiancé Caroline Wozniacki, the young Irishmen said he just wanted to “…get my head into golf this week and concentrate on the tournament and try to do well.” So far it has been “mission accomplished.” Shouldering the burden, McIlroy came back from a potentially disastrous 38 going out on Friday to fire a sparkling 33 on the back nine to gain ground on leader Thomas Bjorn at the BMW PGA Championship at Virginia Water, England.
With stories circulating in recent days that McIlroy ended his relationship because his personal life was affecting his game, the two-time major winner carded two bogeys in his first three holes on Friday. He then recorded a double bogey on the seventh hole—the same one he eagled on Thursday. His back nine, however, was an entirely different tale. Taking eagle for the second day in a row, McIlroy added three birdies before he was done, and wound up with a 1-under 71 for the day. Bjorn could manage only even-par for his second round and McIlroy found himself just five strokes out of the lead as the players head for the final two rounds on the weekend.
It has been a week beset by a storm of emotion for the 25-year-old from Holywood, Northern Ireland. In addition to his much-publicized relationship dissolution, McIlroy was attempting to play winning golf on a course where has had little or no success over the years in the flagship tournament on the European PGA Tour. He has done his best to shut the breakup publicity out of his life, admitting that he has not looked at his phone since the competition began on Tuesday, and has given away his laptop computer. McIlroy even joked, “It’s like living in the 60’s and 70’s.”
When consideration is given to the magnitude of the event he has endured this week, it would be surprising if the Ulsterman did not record at least one more lapse in concentration like the one that occurred on the front nine on Friday at Wentworth. “I’m not going to lie,” said McIlroy before he began his first round on Wednesday, “it’s going to be very difficult.” Even though he stated that he wanted to “bury my head in golf,” he appears to carry the burden with him this week from tee box to tee box.
On the other side of the relationship, the world heard from 23-year-old tennis sensation Caroline Wozniacki on Thursday for the first time since the announcement. Wozniacki replied via Twitter, saying it was a “hard time” for her and thanking fans for the sweet messages. She also got in one playful jab at Rory, expressing her joy at supporting the Liverpool soccer team. Caroline is a Liverpool fan, while McIlroy roots for Manchester United. Thus far, Wozniacki has been able to deflect any direct media interrogation on her side. That may or may not change. She was to have begun play next week in the French Open, but her status is in doubt because of a knee injury.
Golf Shots is a daily series which provides analysis and commentary on the PGA tour and golf-related topics all year long.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky