McIlroy fades at the Australian Open

Remember all that stuff I wrote yesterday about the tricky winds and green runoffs and greens that were running about 12 at the Emirates Australian Open?

Well, about the only thing that didn’t get worse for the players on Saturday at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney were the green runoffs. They remained as tricky as ever. But the winds really got up in the afternoon blowing a blustery 15 to 25 miles per hour. And the greens got up to around 12½. Rod Pampling said they were getting “crusty,” as in, “For God’s sake, somebody please give those poor things a drink!”

Adam Scott said he didn’t want to see too much water on them; good players like the advantage their better ball striking gives them on stopping a ball on the greens. He didn’t make that latter statement, he just smiled as he voted to keep the greens on the thirsty side. 

But that isn’t why Rory McIlroy shot 5-over and fell out of contention. He made a triple and a double bogey on 9 and 10. On 9, he flared his tee shot so far to the right that his cruise to victory got bogged down in gnarly pampas grass, something that appeared more a swing issue than a wind issue. The look of surprise on his face on his follow-through gave it away.

Other than that, he made three birdies and three bogeys to hold his own. Friday he made the case that he played so much better than Thursday even though he had six bogeys. After those two holes on Saturday, it’s not clear that he would make that same statement.

At six shots back from the leaders, Jordan Spieth, Greg Chalmers and Brett Rumford, it is unlikely that he will achieve the rare, back-to-back victory in the Open that he was aiming for. Spieth is playing some solid golf and Chalmers was calmly getting up and down from everywhere, not to mention that he’s won the Open twice. They are at 5-under.

A stroke behind them are the eager Rod Pampling and Adam Scott. Pampling was striking the ball with some authority. Amid the two birdies and bogeys, he made an eagle-2 to shoot 69. Given what was going on in the rest of the field, Scott was impressive in shooting 69 with just one bogey.

The forecast is for a sunny 85 degree day with the winds getting up in the afternoon again. With all of the challenges the players will face – not to mention that it’s Sunday — it doesn’t appear that there will be a whole lot of movement on the leaderboard. The low rounds of the day were 4 and 3-under and there was just one each. Six players shot 2-under.

So if McIlroy comes back from this to win, there will need to be some sort of coronation. But you never want to underestimate the No. 1 player in the world.

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