Tony Johnstone, the longtime player and venerable broadcaster, has seen his fair share of good breaks over the years. And he summed up rather well the feelings that typically arise after one pops up.
Who doesn’t love a bit of luck?
“Isn’t that one of the great things about our game?” Johnstone said on Golf Channel. “Every guy knows how wonderful it is to have a break like that. When somebody else gets it, you never decry it; you’re happy for them.”
So it was on Saturday, among three of the bigger names in the game, at one of the more historic courses, during one of the more important events. Rory McIlroy hooked his ball left and into the trees on the par-5 17th at Wentworth Golf Club during the BMW PGA Championship second round. And the fun really began.
We’ll start with McIlroy. The man who won the PGA Tour’s Tour Championship in his last start and may have helped save the Tour a few days before that is also human. He’ll miss left, and that he did with his tee ball on 17. He leaned to the right, his right ear eventually becoming almost parallel to the tee box.
“Needs a break, he needs some luck,” Johnstone said on the broadcast.
The setup above gives away that he got some, but maybe not how. For five seconds, the ball was lost. Then it was found. It dropped onto the fairway.
The crowd in Surrey, England, murmured, then cheered.
“That must have pin-balled its way around up there for a while,” analyst Allison Whittaker said.
Back on the tee, McIlroy knew what he was gifted and reacted in kind. Playing partners Matt Fitzpatrick and Billy Horschel did. This is what Johnstone was referring to. For five minutes, this all looked more like a weekend buddies group.
McIlroy lowered his head onto the right shoulder of Fitzpatrick. Both players laughed hard.
McIlroy covered his face. Fitzpatrick laughed harder.
As Horschel hit, McIlroy looked to someone in the background, mimicked a hook swing and laughed some more.
“No matter how good you are, you still need a little luck,” Johnstone said on the broadcast. “That’s the break of the week.”
The threesome walked down the fairway, and Horschel got in his word. He put his right arm around McIlroy’s shoulder, said something quick, and he, McIlroy and Fitzpatrick all had one last laugh.
What was so funny??
“He said, ‘Who did you pay to throw the ball out there? Where’s your wallet?’” McIlroy told reporters afterward.
“I said, “It’s too heavy. I put it in the locker.”
McIlroy with the quick wit. He had another, and we’ll get to that in a sec.
From 271 out on the par-5, McIlroy hit a low, hooking stinger around some trees on the dogleg left, he chipped on and two-putted for a birdie four. Who knows what would have happened had he have had to hit a second off the tee, but as it stands heading into Sunday’s final round, after tacking on a birdie on 18, he’s a shot behind leaders Soren Kjeldsen and Viktor Hovland.
Overcome it, and the accomplishment is great. For one, play was postponed late Thursday and all of Friday after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and the mood on Saturday was reflective. And two weeks ago, McIlroy won the Tour Championship, and back-to-back victories — at the PGA Tour’s biggest-money event and at the DP World Tour’s showcase tournament — is notable. But you know there’s more by now. This week, 18 LIV Golf players are playing the BMW PGA, and without rehashing every comment, we’ll say things are a little tense between that group from the upstart series, and the DP World Tour and PGA Tour golfers in the tournament.
So the value of a win is not lost on McIlroy, who has also turned himself into an established brand spokesman.
“It would be — every win is big,” he said. “I’ve won 10 percent of the golf tournaments that I’ve entered as a professional and that’s as good a record as anyone, right. We lose a lot more than we win, so every win is big.
“But with everything that’s going on around our game, everything that’s happened in this country over the last couple days, it would certainly be up there as one of the most memorable.”
Now for his other slight jab.
The postponements dropped the tournament from 72 holes to 54. That number, of course, is the amount of holes played on the LIV Golf series. And LIV is the Roman numeral for 54.
And all of that led to this exchange.
“A word about your position in the tournament here because it’s a very, very healthy one, very solid finish?”
“I’m excited about tomorrow,” McIlroy said. “I haven’t played one of these events, so it’s going to be interesting to see how it feels.”
“Yeah, exactly,” he said.
“Yeah, it’s going to be good. I’m right in the thick of things, only one behind. It’s going to be exciting. There’s so many guys up around the top of the leaderboard. So it will be a sprint to the finish, that’s for sure.”