It is an image working its way around the world and Rory McIlroy will just pray it does not prove the perfect episode to sum up his golfing year. In a fit of rage, Northern Irishman broke his club clean in half in the first round of the Zozo Championship.
A fine will be incoming from the PGA Tour, but what will worry him infinitely more is his form with the Masters just three weeks away. McIlroy went into the Los Angeles event talking about ending his 13-month winless run. Yet after a 73 that leaves him nine off the pace at Sherwood Country Club, the world No 5 is simply relieved that the event does not feature a cut. McIlroy has three more rounds to fix the faults.
The club technicians, meanwhile, did not have nearly as much time to resuscitate the poor wedge. Following back-to-back birdies, McIlroy had sliced into the trees on the par-four 18th and had been forced to lay up in front of the water. From 140 yards, he then missed the green. McIlroy had seen enough.
He jammed the neck of the club into the turf and deliberately snapped it. Just to make sure of his ultimate intention, he then completed the break with his hands. McIlroy proceeded to walk up the fairway, with the grip end of the wedge still in his right hand, comically taking a few practice swings with what was left. But make no mistake, inside he was boiling over, and his mood was hardly lifted when that double-bogey led to him standing in a tie for 64th in the 78-man field.
Nobody can remember McIlroy reacting with such fury. There was the infamous moment when he hurled a club into the lake during a World Golf Championship event in Miami, but that seems understated compared to this and it highlights where he is with his game, which has not even represented a shadow of itself before lockdown.
In the Golf Channel commentary booth, Paul Azinger was as surprised as anyone. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Rory snap and go that far, but it happens,” the former US Ryder Cup captain said. “It just shows you he’s not here for second place; he’s here to win. His expectations are high, and when things go the way they go, he’s human, too.”
At least McIlroy has good company down near the bottom of the leaderboard. Tiger Woods, the defending champion, is in 75th after a 76 that hardly bodes well for his title defence at Augusta. Woods has won five times at Sherwood on five occasions, each time doing what he always did in his garlanded career - ripping up the five par-fives. He played them in three-over this time en route to his worst round in 49 attempts at the plush California layout.
Woods is 12 behind Columbian pacesetter Sebastian Munoz, with England’s Tyrrell Hatton continuing his remarkable run in a tie for second alongside world No 3 Justin Thomas on seven-under. Hatton, who finished third in Las Vegas on Sunday having won at Wentworth the previous week, posted eight birdies and the solitary bogey and took it all in what is becoming a highly-transformative casual stride.
“So far, so good for me. Hoping that I can kind of play well the next three days and finish off what would be a really good three weeks of golf,” Hatton, the world No 9, said. “The confidence is pretty high. But I’ve had some bad tournaments since the restart as well. I guess you just have to try and take advantage of the runs when you feel pretty good.”