“I think Rory has upped his intensity level both on and off the golf course. I see him working harder and I see him getting himself in great shape. I see him just kind of being a lot more single-minded and tunnel-visioned off the golf course. I think he’s working harder and he has a huge amount more belief in himself and he knows what he wants to do now and he knows how to do it. It’s pretty scary to see what he can do with a golf ball, you know, and he’s now starting to kind of show it. So, it’s cool.”
So says Graeme McDowell of his buddy, Rory McIroy, the new, World No. 1, by virtue of his steady, two-shot victory in the Honda Classic. Steady because the PGA National Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens was whipped by 30 mile-per-hour winds for much of the day. Anyone who could hold it together in those conditions is a player.
Actually, there were two guys who did better than just hold it together. Tiger Woods shot an incredible 62 in those conditions and Lee Westwood shot a 63.
Some would argue that this is less impressive because they were so far back, they had nothing to lose. It is true that they had less pressure on them other than their self-imposed urgency to shoot a low number and see if they could get to the lead. And that the next level would have been to have shot those numbers when they had the lead. But given their respective proven greatness, their scores today were very impressive.
Neither one of them had a bogey on the card. In fact, Tiger likened his 5-iron into a front, right pin on 18 for eagle to his famous 6-iron from the fairway bunker at the Canadian Open:
There’s a tunnel that we walk off and it was on the left edge of the green, probably about three steps into the green. And I was just aiming at it, and off that downhill lie, I knew it was going to cut, and for some reason, I kept thinking, this is very similar to what I had at Glen Abbey.
But at Glen Abbey, I wasn’t firing at the flag, either. I was firing at Grant Waite’s ball and was just going to move it to the right, and this was the same thing: Aim at the tunnel, I’m going to lean the shaft to try to take some loft off of it and it’s going to start a little further right, but just rip it. And I absolutely just killed this 5-iron.
The roar was so loud at 18 that three-quarters of a mile away on the 13th green, McIlroy heard it:
I heard the roar on 18 when Tiger made eagle and I was just about to line up my putt for birdie on 13. I was able to hole that putt, which was very important, and you know, I knew if I could just play the last five holes at even par, it was going to be good enough.
I wasn’t really paying much attention to Tiger until he made that eagle on 18. I heard the huge roar and it definitely wasn’t a birdie roar.
And he agreed that his ascension to No. 1 was much more meaningful because he had to win the tournament to get there, sink that birdie putt on 13 after hearing that roar and not make any mistakes on the last five holes which included the 3-hole “Bear Trap:”
Yeah, of course, it was a lot more meaningful. I think the way I won today, as well, was great. I missed a few greens coming in. I was able to get up-and-down. I made a couple big par saves early as well which kept my momentum. It was just one of those days. There was a 62 and a 63 out there, which, I mean, is unbelievable playing.
I just needed to focus on my game and do what I needed to do, and thankfully that’s what happened.
And Tom Gillis, the 22-year, Tour journeyman who wasn’t supposed to do much with the pressure of playing in the last group with McIlroy, offered up a very inspirational ending of his own. With…one…last…roll on 18 for birdie, he managed to shoot 1-under, 69, the same score McIlroy shot, in those same challenging conditions. And with the plop of that last putt, he managed to tie Woods and earn $501,600.
I’m in Bay Hill now and I’m in Memorial, Colonial, stuff like that. So I knew I needed to work pretty hard these next two weeks to get in there because I had not done much [this year]. But I feel good. I’m happy and everything’s good.
When he was asked what was behind his good play, he had this to say:
I think it’s a state of mind. I had a little bit different attitude this week. I wasn’t going to try too hard and that’s pretty much it.
And when he was asked what brought about that plan, he heard it, instead, as how did he manifest the plan? And as it turns out, it was a far more valuable answer for those of us interested in the pursuit of mastery:
Just saying I wasn’t going to try too hard.
The camera zoomed back out from his ball tumbling over the front lip of the 18th hole to catch the expression on his face.
It was his first chance to relax the whole of the day; his work was done. And while he hadn’t won, he had played an extraordinary round of golf, tying the great Tiger Woods in the process for second place.
Glancing back at the grandstand, a smile began to form on his face, an “I actually did it,” smile. And then the smile turned into, “I knew all along that I could do this. I knew it.”
And then he stepped to the edge of the green as first, Harris English, and then, McIlroy finished putting out. And the whole time, his head was bowed, the brim of his hat hiding his eyes.