DUBAI // If Thursday’s first round reiterated that Rory McIlroy has a head for heights, then his second showed he has the stomach for a scrap, too.
The Northern Irishman celebrated his stunning opening-day 63 with what he envisioned would be a nice seafood dinner, yet whatever post-play meal he ordered in did not go down that well at all.
After spending the early season confirming last year’s swing troubles have finally been put to bed, this was a takeaway issue of an altogether different nature.
“I didn’t feel too good out there, to be honest,” McIlroy said as he digested an at-times-stodgy two-under 70. “I got some food last night that didn’t agree with me. But I wouldn’t use that as an excuse.”
Despite seeing his overnight two-stroke advantage halved by the close on Friday – Brooks Koepka, the young American, is his closest competitor – McIlroy’s game did not exactly clam up.
Granted, the driving exhibition he staged throughout Thursday deserted him, as he found only five fairways. However, the world No 6 hung in there to still register a quintet of birdies. Three bogeys were a little more off-colour, especially as it matched the combined number of times he had failed to record par or better in his first 90 holes of the new year.
The presence of Caroline Wozniacki, his tennis-star fiancee, would have perked McIlroy up a bit, though, as did a restorative birdie at the last.
“It was a good, positive way to end,” he said. “Hopefully it’s my bad round out of the way, and I can hit a couple of better ones over the next few days.”
When a 70 constitutes a poor score around the Majlis, and sustains a tournament lead, it makes for pretty ominous stuff. McIlroy has long waxed lyrical about his love for Dubai, and this event in particular, so it was hardly surprising that the 2009 champion remains in confident mood.
Asked if he expects to lift the coffee pot trophy come Sunday afternoon, he responded: “Yeah, I do. I’ve been in this position before and I’ve gone on to win. I know the course just as well as anyone else.”
“Anyone else” would obviously include Tiger Woods. Like McIlroy, the world No 1 is competing at Emirates Golf Club for the seventh time, but his second round looked more novice than knowledgeable.
His one-over par 71 left him eight shots off the summit and was largely the result of some erratic swipes off the tee. In fact, Woods hit four fairways all day, an even more damning statistic given he located the short stuff on each of his first three holes.
“I’ve been hitting hot pulls … but it’s an easy fix,” he said. “I would rather hit the hot pull than the big flame-out, crop-duster to the left.”
He was definitely spraying it everywhere. While not quite as bad as his 79 last Saturday at Torrey Pines – his first outing this season – it reinforces the feeling Woods has come into the campaign a tad undercooked. He finally acknowledged as much.
“I took a long break there and didn’t really do anything much,” Woods said. “Just trying to get my body organised and that part’s materialised.”
His game needs a committed workout, too. Woods got in some extra time on the range immediately after his round, although he was putting a few enthusiasts through their paces at a golf clinic set-up by tournament organisers.
He said he feels that, with a little light surgery, he could yet have a major say in this thing.
“Hopefully tomorrow,” Woods said. “I need a lot of wind on the weekend and to play two great rounds. This course is definitely gettable.”