HUMBLE, Texas — When the scrutiny becomes suffocating, it’s a good time for Rory McIlroy to get as far away as he can.
So he went to a practice range on a public course.
Imagine the surprise of the paying customer at Miami Municipal Golf Course a few weeks ago who looked over to his left and saw McIlroy, still at No. 1 in the world and a two-time major champion, plop down a carry bag with a Manchester United logo.
“Why was that such a big deal?” McIlroy asked with a mixture of amazement and bemusement.
This was Wednesday at the Houston Open, where morning frost had caused a two-hour delay in the pro-am. Instead of retreating to the clubhouse dining room at Redstone Golf Club to order from the omelet station, McIlroy found a spare booth in the caddie trailer, where the fare ranged from scrambled eggs to peanut butter on toast.
He made the cut on the number last week — his first cut against a full field this year — and was making a run up the leaderboard in the third round when he three-putted for bogey from 5 feet on the par-5 13th hole. McIlroy dropped two more shots and returned toward the bottom of the pack.
After lunch, it was back to work. He could have sought privacy at the far end of the range. Instead, he set up shop in front of a grandstand where 30 people took a seat to watch. Tom Gillis, a runner-up to McIlroy a year ago at the Honda Classic, came over and gave Boy Wonder a playful push.
There were more smiles than drops of sweat in this practice session.
McIlroy was hitting driver toward the end, picking out a barren tree on the horizon as a target for his draw. He was getting dialed in when caddie J.P. Fitzgerald said, “End it with a good one.” The shape looked to be perfect, and the caddie said, “Beautiful.”