Imagine Golf Blogs

Solid as a Rock

His Fortunes couldn't contrast any more to Woods and McIlroy

Posted Jan 31, 2012 by Dermot Gilleece

robert rock

Events for the three principals in Abu Dhabi last weekend, brought to mind their very different yet, in one case, quite similar experience in mid-May three years ago.  That was when Tiger Woods was easing his way back to prominence on a re-structured knee; Rory McIlroy mixed playing with spectating in horrible weather at Baltray, and Robert Rock bogeyed the final hole in a valiant attempt at a European Tour breakthrough. Ah, the fascinating unpredictability of golf!

It could be argued that Rock was quite fortunate in having a cushion going into one of the most dangerous finishing holes in golf last Sunday.  The other way of looking it, of course, is that he had the skill and determination to achieve that comfortable position, despite the intimidating presence of Mr Woods as a playing partner.

No such excuse could be offered, however, for what happened on the par-five 18th at Baltray in a play-off for the Irish Open of 2009.  When Rock went down that long stretch towards the clubhouse for a third time against 22-year-old local amateur, Shane Lowry, he pitched over the green for a bogey six, to lose hole and title to a modest par.

Yet there was a huge bonus for the then, 32-year-old Englishman who, as the leading professional finisher, collected top money of €500,000 for second place.  Which, as it happens, was a formidable €153,000 more than he picked up for winning last Sunday.  So, Rock could be forgiven for thinking that bogey finishes can be blessings in disguise.

Added to the unimagined boost of that Baltray experience, he recorded two other second-place finishes that year, in the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the Italian Open.  All of which brought him improbable tournament earnings of €889,397 and an end-of-season 29th in the Order of Merit.  After years of struggle, Rock was finally on his way.

McIlroy had a sharply contrasting experience at Baltray.  After early rounds of 69 and 68 had left him in a challenging position at the half-way stage, he tailed away to disappointing rounds of 76 and 75 over the wet weekend, as an early indication that he far prefers having the sun on his back.  A small bonus, however, was that his early finish on Sunday allowed him to walk the closing holes with his friend Lowry, with whom he had shared many happy experiences in amateur ranks.

Meanwhile, Woods was having a week off in the family home at Isleworth, Orlando, having finished eighth behind Henrik Stenson in the Players Championship at Sawgrass.  Earlier that year, I happened to be at the Northern Telecom Open at Riviera CC where the announcement was made on the Friday that the great one would be making his much-anticipated return from surgery in the Accenture World Matchplay in Tucson the following week.

When the big occasion came, it hardly mattered that he lost by 4 and 2 to South Africa’s Tim Clark in the second round, so wrecking a hoped-for third-round clash with McIlroy. The very sight of him back in action was a huge event in itself. Woods, of course, was still the world number one at that point, but there were confident predictions from such luminaries as Ernie Els and Geoff Ogilvy that it would be only a matter of time before the gifted youngster from Northern Ireland took over at the top.

Though clearly headed in the right direction, McIlroy has to settle for the number-two spot at the moment.  Woods, on the other hand, is patiently plotting a different route back to prominence, following head-wrecking turmoil he could never have imagined during that quiet week in mid-May three years ago. No more than Rock could have thought in his wildest dreams, that his failed attempt at Baltray would prove to be a springboard culminating in Abu Dhabi, and victory down the stretch over the greatest player of the modern era.

- Dermot Gilleece

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