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Friday 18 April 2014

Faldo doesn't know how I feel – McIlroy

Rory McIlroy is clearly fed up with all the Nike negativity since signing up with the swoosh

Rory McIlroy will set out to prove in the next three weeks that Nick Faldo and the other doubters are wrong in questioning his decision to switch clubs.

The world No 1 is plainly fed up with all the Nike negativity since signing up with the swoosh last month, and here at the WGC Accenture Match Play yesterday, he responded to Faldo's repeated comments about the dangers of McIlroy losing his "feel".

"Nick Faldo doesn't know how I feel over the golf shot and I don't know how he felt," McIlroy said.

"But my guess is he was a little more analytically minded than I am. I try to keep things as simple as possible. If I see the ball going in the direction I want then I'm happy. It feels good and hopefully I can show that to everyone this week."

Essence

Many will believe he needs to. Having played just two competitive rounds in the last three months and with only four events on his schedule before the Masters, time is plainly of the essence for McIlroy. The problem is that at the Match Play Championship, time is often in short supply.

On what is undoubtedly the most exciting weekday on the golfing calendar, the only surprise will be if there are no surprises in today's first round. And with McIlroy playing just his second tournament with his new Nike clubs, all eyes will be on his confrontation with his old Irish team-mate Shane Lowry.

This will be a wet Wednesday in the Arizona desert and with gusts of up to 40mph – and even snow – forecasted, the match play lottery will be yet more unpredictable.

In this regard, the bells should not ring too alarmingly if McIlroy does fall to Lowry. But they would. And no matter how hard he tries to avoid the media's comments, the pressure would build on McIlroy.

The Holywood star admitted that the sharpening of knives in the background did affect him in his season opener another desert five weeks ago.

"I knew it would happen if I didn't play well in Abu Dhabi and I probably did put a little bit too much pressure on myself because of that," McIlroy said. The result was a 75-75 and a weekend on the range to acclimatise himself further with his new equipment.

Except McIlroy claimed then and he claims now that the blame should have been on his own bad workmanship and not the tools. "The clubs performed fine, it was just I wasn't swinging at my best," said McIlroy, who signed a five-year contract for €89m.

He feels that after two weeks spent with his coach, Michael Bannon, in Florida, "I've turned a corner with my swing".

So it should merely be a case of match fitness. Does he have enough time after such a protracted break, which featured him skiing with his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki in France? McIlroy seemed unconcerned. "I always try to make the Masters my sixth tournament of the year," he said. "I'll know much more after (the WGC Cadillac Championship at) Doral after this three-week run. That'll be a good measurement stick to where my game's at."

A fast start is vital against Lowry. The world No 68 is a fine putter and, as he proved when winning the 2009 Irish Open as an amateur, he is not afraid to grasp a golden opportunity.

McIlroy stayed behind after his own round at Baltray on that famous Sunday to cheer on his friend as he beat Robert Rock in a play-off. McIlroy sprayed him in champagne, urged him to turn pro immediately and, in Lowry's words, "he's been there ever since if I've ever needed him".

"This match should be a laugh whatever happens," Lowry said. If only it were so simple for McIlroy.

And with Graeme McDowell playing Padraig Harrington, this could seem less like the World Match Play and more like the All-Ireland Match Play. Yet there is plenty of English, Scottish and Welsh interest, too.

The likes of Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and Paul Lawrie will need no introduction to these galleries, but for Stephen Gallacher, Chris Wood, David Lynn and Jamie Donaldson, this is their day to introduce their talents.

Perhaps Gallacher has the most imposing challenge of the quartet. As the Scot put it yesterday: "Thankfully, I'm not American, because Ian Poulter seems to save his best for them."

Wood, a 25-year-old from Bristol, might fancy his chances in the gusts against the erratic genius of the Masters champion Bubba Watson, while Lynn, who finished second to McIlroy at last year's US PGA, plays US Open champion, Webb Simpson.

Lynn and Simpson both employ the long putter. Yesterday it emerged that the PGA Tour will detail its opposition to the forthcoming "anchoring ban" in a letter to the USGA, which along with the R&A sets the rules. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Accenture Match Play Championship, Live, Sky Sports 1, 6.0

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