Commenting on the fact that Rory McIlroy had, as he does, taken to putting cack-handed (left hand below right on the grip), Jordan Spieth, the world No. 1, said: “You’ve switched to the dark side, I see.” Paired together at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral in Miami, Spieth opened with a 69 while McIlroy had a 71, including a trio of three-putts.
On Friday he shot 65, including just 23 putts. That left him two shots adrift of the leader, Adam Scott, who’d won the Honda Classic the week before and had undergone a much more fundamental putter change than McIlroy: the banning of the anchored putting stroke with effect from the beginning of this year meant the Australian had been forced to jettison his long wand.
McIlroy’s putting held up on Saturday as he carded a four-und-par 68, his first bogey-free round of the year, to lead Scott and Dustin Johnson by three. By Sunday, he was back to square one. He’d made three bogeys before his one and only birdie of the day, at the 16th, by which point Scott had overcome the burden of double-bogeys at the 3rd and 5th to run off six birdies of his own. On a day when the former broomhandle whizz from Oz didn’t miss from inside ten feet, he eventually won with a par at the last after his second shot defied gravity by staying out of the water at the 18th.
The subsequent up-and-down got Scott home and dry at 12 under par with a closing 69 for back-to-back wins. Bubba Watson finished 11 under, with McIlroy and Danny Willett tied third on 10 under, Willett despite having driven into the lake at the last. Johnson had one of those days he sometimes does, featuring a run of being seven over par for four holes from the 10th.
Also in attendance was the owner of the golf course, the front-running Republican candidate for the American presidency, Donald Trump, who said: “What will happen if I become president? It will kill my golf game for sure, but it will be great for golf because I love golf.” He also described as “excellent” his relationship with the world’s golf authorities, although that might be news to them. Last year, four major American golfing organisations formally distanced themselves from Trump’s comments on immigration and the PGA of America cancelled the Grand Slam of Golf, scheduled to be held at a Trump development.
Then there’s the question of when, and if, the Open Championship will return to Turnberry – sorry, Trump Turnberry. It may be unlikely that it will, at least while he’s the owner. Turnberry last held the Open in 2009. The Open venues are seemingly sorted through 2021, either officially or informally. The previous chief executive of the Royal & Ancient, Peter Dawson, said last year it was “unthinkable” that any remarks Trump might make during the American primaries could affect the R&A’s decision as to where to take its most cherished asset.
But during a recent press conference, Dawson’s successor, Martin Slumbers, regretted the brouhaha that accompanied Trump’s attendance at last year’s Women’s British Open at Turnberry, where several competitors confided they were unhappy staying at a hotel owned by a man given to misogynistic comments. Slumbers declined to repeat the sort of unequivocal statement of his predecessor. “We believe golf should be open to all, regardless of gender, race, nationality or religion,” he said.
Leaving aside the fact that the Open Championship is going to a men-only club at Royal Troon this summer, that perhaps suggests the R&A is at least hedging its bets. As we have seen, it is not alone in its quandary. Next year’s US Women’s Open is due to be played at Trump Bedminster in New Jersey. Will the USGA take that away? Especially if the man is president of its country?
Finally, back to the playing of golf. While one Australian was finishing first at Doral, another, Steven Bowditch, was finishing alone in 65th place. He didn’t break 80 in any of the four rounds. Maybe he needs to visit the dark side?
Robert Green’s ‘Seve: Golf’s Flawed Genius’ is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @robrtgreen