Monday 25 September 2017

'I realised that it's okay to be a winner' - McIlroy heeds lessons from Tiger Woods' infamous fall

There’s no doubting the main attraction in Portstewart as Rory McIlroy signs autographs for fans at yesterday’s Pro-Am. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
There’s no doubting the main attraction in Portstewart as Rory McIlroy signs autographs for fans at yesterday’s Pro-Am. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Rory McIlroy yesterday revealed how he has changed from being an ambitious rising star to a winner with a ruthless streak on the fairways.

And, irony of ironies, Tiger Woods' infamous sex scandal in 2009 proved the catalyst for the then 20-year-old McIlroy to stop worrying about people's opinion if he went all out for success.

Four Major titles and 22 worldwide victories later, it's hard to credit that Rory McIlroy ever had any reservations about his core beliefs.

The Belfast-born superstar exuded confidence as he rose through the ranks of boys' golf, through amateur level, and into the dawn of his professional career.

He had, however, a little chink in his psychological armour, something only McIlroy fully appreciated as he observed Tiger Woods' travails from afar.

The solution was simple. "It's realising it's okay to be a winner," he said.

"It's okay to have that mindset, and it's okay to be a little selfish when it comes to that stuff.

"I guess when it really sort of hit home with me was when Tiger had the whole scandal thing in '09 and '10 and he came back, and obviously there was a lot of talk going on.

"But he got into contention at Augusta when he came back, and people loved it, and people loved that he might win, and people loved that he was a winner.

"And after everything that went down, I was like, 'People like winners'.

"People like people that are successful, and it's okay to be one of those people. It's okay to have that ruthless streak.

"You don't have to feel guilty about it. You don't have to feel like you're selfish or you're better. It's just, you want to win.

"That's the reason we practise, and we work hard is because you want to win golf tournaments and hopefully put your name in the history books, and when it hit home with me, I said, 'It's okay to have that mindset."

As he prepares to tee it up in round one of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart today, there is no questioning McIlroy's mindset.

Give him a chance, and he'll snatch a second Irish Open title, and no questions asked. The duties of a polite tournament host only stretch so far.

Any doubts about the outcome centre on how comfortable he feels about his putting and his performance on the greens.

McIlroy tried out five putters in practice at the recent Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour, and used three different putters in the tournament.

It ended well, as he shot 64 in the fourth round. Does that augur well for Portstewart?

The good news is that only one 'magic wand' will be used this week - the same TaylorMade TP Juno blade which helped him shoot that 64.

McIlroy also spent some time with his putting coach Phil Kenyon at Royal Birkdale last Thursday, and had a short session at Portstewart on Monday.

"The putting feels good. It feels better than it was. I feel like I was thinking a little too much about it. It was getting a little bit complicated.

Simplify

"Phil gets me to simplify things a little bit and that's what we've tried to do. And it was good to see Phil and get back to a style of putter that I've had success with in the past," said McIlroy.

Portstewart, the Scottish Open and the third Major of the season, the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, present a series of top links challenges.

McIlroy wants to get his game in gear after a season truncated by injury, and he has put in some serious preparation on seaside courses.

Over the last 10 days, he has played Portstewart, Royal Birkdale, Royal County Down and Royal Portrush.

McIlroy may have been brought up on links in his youth, but like all the professionals, particularly those who play on the PGA Tour, the majority of their golf is played on lush parkland layouts with receptive greens.

Links is different, and McIlroy has been familiarising himself with some of the shot selections required for coping with this style of golf.

"Having your mid- and long-irons in good shape, and your long putting is important.

"That's the thing on links golf, as well. Putting from off the green and putting from 50, 60, 70 feet, getting your pace really well, that's a huge part of links golf. They are the two main things I'm going to focus on for the next few weeks."

The world No 4 plays alongside Japan's Hideki Matsuyama and Jon Rahm of Spain in one of the marquee groups at 1.20pm today, starting off the first tee.

Huge galleries will follow that three-ball, but big crowds will flock early to the 10th tee where they can watch Shane Lowry with Rafa Cabrera Bello and Thomas Pieters (8.10am); Graeme McDowell with Justin Rose and newly crowned French Open champion Tommy Fleetwood (8.20) and Pádraig Harrington with Miguel Angel Jimenez and Andy Sullivan.

A total of 17 Irish players will garner home support. The hope is that the weather gods will not be too unkind over the next four days.

Rain is forecast for today, but after that the weather should be reasonably good.

Shane Lowry likes the par-72 Strand Course layout which will offer plenty of birdie opportunities.

"It is a golf course I like. I think it's a golf course you can be fairly aggressive on, and make a lot of birdies. The par-fives are very gettable.

"If you hit a good drive, you're only hitting irons into greens," Lowry said

"But if you hit it in the rough, then all of a sudden you've got a tricky lay-up and you're trying to avoid the fairway bunkers which are lay-ups.

"There's two par-threes, number six and 15. They're two proper par-threes that are quite tricky but really good holes."

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open

Live, Sky Sports 1, 10.30am

The Greenbrier Classic

Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.0pm

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