‘It’s inevitable that I will be world number one’: Rory McIlroy
FOR a young man whose default mode is modesty, Rory McIlroy proved disarmingly candid on his chances of deposing Luke Donald as the world No1.
“Getting to the top of the rankings is hopefully inevitable, if I keep playing the way I am at the minute,” the Irishman said. Amid his frustration at losing 2&1 to Hunter Mahan in the Accenture Matchplay final on Sunday night, the 22 year-old did not want for self-belief.
There was logic in his loftiness. McIlroy, after all, could find himself looking down upon the rest as early as this coming Sunday, should he finish strongly at this week’s tournament, the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
His second place in Arizona closed the gap on Donald to an easily bridgeable 0.53 points and Mahan, despite eclipsing him in the final, did not doubt that the prodigy would reach the top soon.
“Deep down I wanted to postpone that crowning of the No1 player in the world for Rory,” the Californian said, smiling. “He will get there. He’s ¬phenomenal, really talented. He’ll be No1 eventually.”
McIlroy acknowledged that his extraordinary semi-final win over Lee Westwood, who was also pursuing the No1 spot, on Sunday morning had sapped his energy for one last duel.
The Ulsterman looked weary during an unusually careless first 10 holes in the final in the afternoon, racking up consecutive sixes at the seventh and eighth holes before falling four down to Mahan.
“This is no disrespect to the guys in the other semi-final — Hunter and Mark Wilson — but to me, the semi-final against Lee was like my final,” McIlroy said. “That was the one I wanted all week and I got it. That’s what I got myself up for. Maybe mentally and emotionally, it did take a little bit out of me.”
His defeat should not be allowed to detract from the performance of Mahan, who seemed a world removed from the nervy player whose botched chip at the 17th at Celtic Manor effectively cost the United States the last Ryder Cup.
At 29, this native of Orange County won his second World Golf Championship event and strengthened his case to supplant Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as America’s leading player. “Hunter played very, very solid,” McIlroy admitted.
In a more objective moment, McIlroy could reflect upon his display at the Accenture as a satisfying one.
Not only had he vanquished Westwood, with whom he has had a cool relationship ever since their time as stablemates under Chubby ¬Chandler’s management, but he also showed glimpses of finding his finest form just five weeks before the ¬Masters.
For the next month McIlroy will be based in Florida as he seeks to remedy the few remaining flaws in his game.
His course management was suspect against Mahan on Sunday, not least when he overshot the seventh green when his opponent was already in trouble, and needs addressing pre-Augusta.
He will derive great benefit, though, from being allowed free rein of the practice range at The Bear’s Club, Jack Nicklaus’s course at West Palm Beach.
McIlroy’s rapport with Nicklaus has strengthened of late. “I bumped into him at the Gardens Mall parking lot in Palm Beach,” he said.
“He asked me what I thought of his golf course and I said it was great. I’ll be at The Bear’s Club every day and I’m sure I’ll bump into him now and then. It’s unbelievable, to sit down and pick the brain of Jack Nicklaus.”