It is, of course, a trait owned by all the great ones. Scoring well is relatively easy when someone is swinging well and playing well. But achieving the first of those when the others are misfiring is the mark of a real golfer. Call it what you will. Grinding it out. Sticking to the task. Making the best of what you have. Staying patient no matter what. It is what speaks to the true quality of a player, much more than, say, a six-shot victory when all aspects of this infuriating game are running smoothly.
On the second day of the 101st PGA Championship, Rory McIlroy got around Bethpage Black in 71 shots, one better than he managed 24 hours earlier. On three-over par for the 36 holes played, the 30-year old Northern Irishman will be around for the weekend, albeit engraving his name on the giant Wanamaker Trophy for a third time will require something of a superhuman effort over the next two days.
Still, anything is possible. Already, McIlroy has, at least to some extent, resurrected what was rapidly descending into a disastrous few days on Long Island. Following a double-bogey, bogey, double-bogey start from the 10th tee, the four-time major champion was tied for 123rd place when he missed from ten-feet or so for birdie on the 18th green. In other words, he needed to rise by at least 53 places over the next nine holes if he were not to suffer a ninth missed cut - he has twice as many top-10 finishes - in the 41 major championships he has played as a professional.
Courtesy of a flurry of four birdies in five holes from the par-5 fourth, McIlroy achieved all of the above and more. By the time he finished he was ranked T-58, comfortably inside the top-70 and ties who will move on to the third round. It was a fine effort.
“I didn’t really feel like I hit too many bad shots,” he claimed. “Maybe I made some bad decisions. But I tried on every shot. I didn’t let my head go down. Even when I had some chances and they weren’t going in I tried to stay as patient as I could. And when one putt dropped a few did.
“Still, if someone had said to me as I came off the 12th green that I would shoot a lower score than yesterday, I would have been doubtful. To play the last 15 holes in four-under par was an example of me trying hard, showing some character and really wanting to be here for the weekend. If I can shoot a good one tomorrow morning and get under par for the tournament, you never know.”
Predictably on a still-sodden course, the awful start that set McIlroy such a formidable task stemmed from fairways missed. No matter how talented or strong a player might be, playing Bethpage well from anywhere other than short grass is all but impossible. And, as he admitted, McIlroy paid a rich price for his impetuosity from less than encouraging places.
“On the 10th I was in that long, wispy rough for the first time this week,” he explained. “The lie looked okay at the bottom, but the longer grass wrapped round the shaft and the ball went straight left into another bad lie. It wasn’t the greatest start, especially after a sloppy bogey on the 11th. Then on 12 I got greedy with my approach and ended up with another double.”
Thereafter, his only mistake came on the uphill, 484-yard 15th. After missing the fairway to the right, McIlroy came up short in the front bunker and failed to save par. Otherwise, his play was a study in how to make the best of a bad lot. It would have been easy for one who has enjoyed so much success to view the more prosaic task of making a halfway cut as something beneath his stature. But not a bit of it.
“It's not as if I haven't been in those positions before,” he said. “It's just a matter of not pressing too much and staying patient and letting the good golf come through. It’s a pride thing. It would have been easy to think I could go home to Florida and have a nice weekend. But that’s not why I’m here. Struggling to make the cut is actually like being in contention in that you have to get something out of yourself at the right time. And it’s even harder to do that when you’re not playing your best. I could have gone the other way. Of course I could. But I didn’t let myself do that.”