The Players Championship: McIlroy misses Sawgrass cut and wants 'to get back to being a golfer'

By Sports Desk March 11, 2023

Rory McIlroy missed the cut at The Players Championship on Saturday and pointed the finger at his off-course political workload, saying: "I'd love to get back to being a golfer."

The Northern Irishman, a talisman for the PGA Tour, has been a strong and vocal opponent of the LIV Golf series that has attracted a host of the world's leading players.

With LIV being a Saudi-backed series, questions have been asked about why players would sign up for a tour that critics consider an attempt at sportswashing due to that country's human rights record.

McIlroy has been working closely with top-level golf officials to improve the appeal of the US-based PGA Tour, with a revamped calendar for 2024 set to include eight additional no-cut tournaments, which it is hoped will prove attractive to anyone with wavering support.

Having an eye on the business side has affected his golf, though, the 33-year-old believes, and McIlroy bowed out at TPC Sawgrass after a delayed finish to the second round, which was affected by bad weather on Friday.

McIlroy agreed after his round when asked if it was fair to say the added responsibilities had taken their toll.

"Yeah, it is fair. I'd love to get back to being a golfer," he said. "It's been a busy couple of weeks, and honestly it's been a busy six or eight months.

"But as I said at the start of the week, everything has sort of been announced now, and the wheels have been put in motion, so it should obviously quieten down from here."

He followed an opening 76 with a 73 in round two, missing the cut by three shots at the flagship tour event.

McIlroy said his week had been "just very blah".

"You just have to be really on to play well here," he added. "If you're a little off, it definitely magnifies where you are off. It's a bit of an enigma. Some years I come here, and it feels easier than others. It's just a tricky golf course."

McIlroy said he would head to Augusta for "a couple of days" next week to familiarise himself with the Georgia course ahead of the Masters, which begins on April 6.

"I actually don't feel like I'm playing that badly at all," said the world number three. "A few miscues here and there, I putted it off the sixth green yesterday, and just stuff that was a little untidy here and there. But I hit the ball okay."

Canadian Adam Svensson held the 36-hole lead on nine under par after a 67, with American Scottie Scheffler second following a second-round 69, putting him two behind. Four players shared third on six under ahead of the third round getting under way: Ben Griffin, Min Woo Lee, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Collin Morikawa.

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    The start of Friday's second round in Kentucky was delayed due to a traffic incident outside the course.

    Louisville Metro Police Department said a bus had struck and killed a pedestrian in the incident, which Scheffler was reportedly attempting to navigate to enter the course.

    Pre-tournament favourite Scheffler carded a four-under-par 67 in the first round on Thursday, putting him five strokes behind early pacesetter Xander Schauffele. 

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    Rory McIlroy felt relieved to have salvaged a five-under 66 from a "scrappy" opening round at the PGA Championship as he and a host of other big names chase Xander Schauffele in Kentucky.

    Schauffele leads at Valhalla Golf Club after carding a historic 62 on the first day, with fellow Americans Tony Finau, Sahith Theegala and Mark Hubbard in a tie for second place at six under, three off the lead.

    McIlroy is in a large group that also contains Collin Morikawa, sitting four shots off the pace at –5.

    Brooks Koepka and Scottie Scheffler are also among the prominent players chasing Schauffele, as they sit on four under after Thursday's action.

    It was a more difficult day for Jon Rahm, who shot a one-under 70, but he would have gladly taken that score when he had bogeyed four of his first six holes, while Tiger Woods is at +1 after a 72.

    McIlroy's last major win came in 2014 at this tournament and venue. He came into the event in form after two straight wins and remains in contention despite not playing at his peak.

    "I rode my luck a little bit," McIlroy said to Sky Sports. "I hope I can drive it like Rory in 2014 over the next few days as I didn't drive it very well [in round one]. 

    "My fairway woods were okay. My scrambling and iron play is coming together, so if I can do all that and hit fairways I am feeling pretty good.

    "I sort of felt like it was pretty scrappy for the most part. I don't really feel like I left many out there and I thought I got a lot out of my game.

    "Had some good up-and-downs, the chip-in on six. I had a little bit of a scrappy part around the turn there, but not really happy with how I played but I am at least happy with the score."

    Masters champion Scheffler will focus on his own game instead of focusing too much on Schauffele's stunning exploits.

    "Yeah, I mean, there's nothing I can do," Scheffler said. "Xander went out and played a great round in the morning, and I'm not really going to worry about trying to shoot 9-under. I'm just going to go out and try to hit good shots and play my own game.

    "I'd like to clean up a few of the mistakes. I missed two putts I felt like I should have holed, but that's going to happen when the greens get a little chewed up. A couple things I can clean up going into Friday, but overall it was a solid round."

    Woods, meanwhile, has accepted inconsistency will be part of his game at this stage of his career, but felt frustrated to end day one over par.

    "I am getting stronger for sure," Woods said. "It's just that I don't play a whole lot of competitive rounds. 

    "Each day is a little bit different. Some days, it's better than others. It's just the way it is. My body is just that way. Some days, it feels great, and others a bit of a struggle.

    "I struggled with the speed of the greens. It was a grind. I should have been under par for the day but I am over par and we have a long way to go.

    "It is a big-boy golf course. It has gotten longer or maybe I have just got shorter!"

    Schauffele sunk nine birdies in a bogey-free round to take the lead. It is just the fourth time a 62 has been carded at a major, with Schauffele matching the record both he and Rickie Fowler equalled in round one of the 2023 US Open.

    Branden Grace had previously gone round in 62 at The Open in 2017, though those efforts all came on par-70 courses, whereas Valhalla is a par-71.

    Schauffele also beat the course record of 63, set by Jose Maria Olazabal in 2000.

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    It is just the fourth time a 62 has been carded at a major, with Schauffele matching the record both he and Rickie Fowler equalled in round one of the 2023 US Open.

    Branden Grace had previously gone round in 62 at The Open in 2017, though those efforts all came on par-70 courses, whereas Valhalla is a par-71.

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    "It's a great start," said the world number three, who has not won a trophy since the 2022 Scottish Open.

    "I think not winning makes you want to win more, as weird as that is.

    "For me, at least, I react to it, and I want it more and more and more."

    Rory McIlroy came in at five under, having carded a fine 66, while Tony Finau and Sahith Theegala went round in 65, while reigning champion Brooks Koepka managed an admirable four under.

    Meanwhile, Tiger Woods went round in 72, at one over par.

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