This is Carnegie Hall or Madison Square Garden as open-air theatre. This is London’s National Theatre or West End Theatre as open-air drama, while being televised around the world and scrutinized into atoms and grains of sand. Welcome to the teeming universe in which Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, the number one and two players in the world, live, play, act, and perform.
The open-air theatre has come this week to the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Doral’s Blue Monster course in Miami, analysis by the second via the telecast, Twitter, live blogs, and later, but not much later, in print, everywhere online, and, of course, on Golf Channel – on and on on Golf Channel.
Woods is back. He shot 66 in the first round while playing with McIlroy. He’s already won on the PGA Tour this year, the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego. But wait, he’s not back. He must win a major for confirmation. But the Masters is a few weeks away. Okay, he must close the deal this week, and win at Doral.
But Brandel Chamblee is expressing his concern on Golf Channel. He’s skeptical because he thinks Woods, now swinging on a flatter plane, isn’t able to extricate himself from rough with the aplomb, dexterity, and accuracy he showed when his swing was steeper, more upright. There isn’t much rough at Doral, so Chamblee figures his angle of attack into the ball won’t be much of an issue. But maybe Woods will yet catch a tangled-up-in–Bermuda-grass lie at Doral.
And then? Who knows? Wait and see. We’re early into the performances at Doral, which are being beamed around the world. Act one is in the books and being replayed. Acts two, three and four are yet to play out. Stage right. Or wrong. Centre stage.
Then there’s McIlroy, he who apologized to the media and the golf world during his Wednesday news conference at Doral for fleeing the scene after completing only 26 holes at last week’s Honda Classic. He was open and honest and he said that would never happen again, but really, who cares? He was petulant and he was hurting and he was playing flawed golf, not the flawless golf he showed while winning the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA Championships by eight shots. And he’d had enough. Yes, he should have finished his round. But he didn’t.
What is more interesting about McIlroy than his being human, all too human, in his behaviour, is that he’s fighting his formerly effortless golf swing. There he is, here he is, on stage, and oh no, he shot 73 in the first round at Doral when the field was turning the Blue Monster into a pitch and putt course. Still, the curtain has risen, and McIlroy is out there at Doral immersed in the most private game played publicly. He’s rehearsing his backswing as part of his routine, because he’s fallen into taking the club back too far to the outside and then dropping it to the inside on his downswing.
Why, he’s looking almost like Mike Weir as he rehearses his backswing, trying to put the club into what he and his coach Michael Bannon have concluded is a better place to be, the place from where he’s won those two majors and reached the number one ranking in the world. But then comes his real backswing. This is no longer a rehearsal, no longer a reading. It’s real golf, tournament golf, and McIlroy and Woods are the marquee performers. McIlroy is trying to incorporate a swing change at centre stage, on Broadway. Or is it a swing change?
“It’s a swing change in terms of I am trying to change my swing, but I am trying to change it back to where it was,” McIlroy said during the Wednesday press conference. “So I guess, I don’t know if you could classify that as a swing change. I’m just trying to get it back to where I like it, and I’ve been in that position before, so I can definitely get in that position again.”
Woods sympathized with McIlroy. He effectively became part of the commentary team in his post-round interview session with the media. He rarely examines a fellow player’s game so closely, at least not publicly.
“Well, I don’t think he’s quite drawing the ball like he used to, that he wants” Woods said, speaking almost softly. “Maybe just a little bit defensive out there. And that happens, and we have all gone through stretches like this.”
So McIlroy is undergoing reconstructive surgery of his backswing. His pre-shot routine has changed. He’s not playing automatic golf. Where have his instincts gone? Can he think and swing at the same time? Can anybody? Gary Williams on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive Friday said this is something completely new, and it is. His sidekick Damon Hack even referred to Weir’s waggle. Tongues are wagging. As Hack said, “Every swing will be diagnosed, every swing analyzed.”
Welcome to McIlroy’s world, and to Woods’s world. Golf’s open-air theatre continues at Doral, as the Masters looms. What will happen next? What will the marquee performers do? You never know. Every performance has 18 acts. Stay tuned. Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out. How can you? We won’t let you.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein