Karl MacGinty: 'Only limit for Rory is how long he can keep the fire lit'
But McGinley warns it's still too early to hail McIlroy as the new Tiger
Published 06/04/2015 | 02:30
Rory McIlroy will be inducted into the company of legends should he complete a Grand Slam of Majors at this week's Masters.
If McIlroy dons the Green Jacket next Sunday to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in history, it'll be viewed widely as a coronation - the king is dead; long live King Rory!
Yet Europe's captain sensible, Paul McGinley, sounds a note of sanity amid all the hype and hullabaloo surrounding McIlroy's seventh appearance at Augusta.
Pointing out that McIlroy, although a four-time Major Champion, is still evolving as a player, the Dubliner insists it's inappropriate to compare him to Woods
McGinley has "no doubt" the Holywood star has what it takes to succeed Tiger as the figurehead of golf.
"Rory understands the pressures and expectations that come with being world No 1 and is very impressive in the way he embraces them.
"He's a far better and more focused player than he was 12 months ago, while he's evolving as a person too. Talking to him, it's incredible how much he gets it and how mature he is for such a young guy.
Yet, McGinley adds: "Rory knows he's not the finished article and, even now, it's not right to compare him to Woods.
"What Tiger did in his career is a yardstick and Rory is still evolving towards that. Every year he's getting better and better in so many ways but he still has a way to go before meeting the standards Tiger set. There are certain conditions in which he still needs to prove himself in order to be considered one of the all-round greats.
"Rory's 25 and look how far he's come. The next five to seven years it'll be very interesting to see if he constantly keeps improving."
Still, McGinley says McIlroy is capable of dominating world golf for as long as his heart desires. "The biggest challenge Rory will face is keeping the fire lit in his heart. That's what made Tiger phenomenal and kept him at the top for as long as he was.
"At the moment Rory has that incredible passion and he's had it for a number of years. Can he keep it burning for 20 years? Ultimately that'll determine how successful he's going to be and how many Majors he wins."
McGinley himself sparkles with energy and enthusiasm.
It inspired his team at Gleneagles and will enliven the debate in the Sky TV studio in Augusta when he rejoins sparring partners Colin Montgomerie and Butch Harmon on the only station showing all four days of the Masters live.
Few have more reason to appreciate McIlroy's maturity and resolve than McGinley.
The youngster's outspoken support as World No 1 was decisive in McGinley's bid for the Ryder Cup captaincy in January 2013 - then McIlroy was a consummate leader in the field in Scotland.
The Masters at pristine Augusta National is as different to a Ryder Cup in Gleneagles as a stiletto knife to a claymore.
McIlroy's effortless power, natural draw and high ball-flight make his game a perfect fit for Augusta, but his sustained contribution to Europe's cause suggests he now also has the mental discipline and focus to succeed in the most bewitching arena of all.
"The confidence Rory showed in me actually gave me confidence in myself as captain … he was fantastic to manage," says McGinley. "I honestly couldn't have asked for one per cent more from him in the two years."
One of the reasons McGinley sought the counsel of Alex Ferguson in the run-up to the Ryder Cup was to learn how Fergie managed star players like Ryan Giggs or David Beckham at Old Trafford and ensure they weren't overburdened by responsibility or expectation.
"Rory's on a completely different plane than I ever was as a player," explains McGinley. "I'd played three Ryder Cups but always from number six to number 12 so the first thing I said to Rory was: 'It's very hard for me as a captain to relate to you as the world No 1 and the weight you have on your shoulders'."
Throughout his captaincy, McGinley set out to spare his players any involvement in team issues so they could concentrate entirely on their game. Yet he found McIlroy's enthusiasm and appetite for information almost boundless.
"If there were things I needed to tell players during the qualifying process, I deliberately tried to keep those conversations short and sweet," he explains.
"Every time I'd a chat with Rory, he was so engaged. Often I'd be walking away and he'd be pulling me back to talk more and to share ideas. He was terrific throughout.
"Look what he did with Sergio Garcia on Saturday afternoon at Gleneagles. Sergio didn't play in the morning. Obviously, he'd had the criticism (from Nick Faldo) the night before and was on a low. Rory put his arm around his shoulder and dragged him through that afternoon session. That prepared Sergio for the singles and he went out and won.
"Yet Rory didn't (assume) the role of ultimate hero. To be honest, I don't like using that term. Let's just say he shouldered a lot of responsibility. I couldn't have asked for more in terms of what he gave."
McGinley never feared the court battle between McIlroy and his former management company would impinge on his performance at Gleneagles.
"I trusted Rory and the people around him. I didn't discuss the court case of the break-up (with fiancée Caroline Wozniacki) with him. It was none of my business as captain.
"But, yeah, he coped with it well. He's fresh and he's not worn down from 20 years on tour. He's still in his ascendancy, still aspiring to be the complete player."
As Rory's career graph rises, Tiger's, inevitably, is falling. McGinley lauds McIlroy for avoiding the millstone Woods created for himself by stating that his career goal was to better the record 18 Majors won by Jack Nicklaus.
"I wonder if that has hindered Tiger, more than anything else," he says. "If he doesn't reach that number, some people will say 'well he didn't get quite as good as Nicklaus'. That'd be a shame considering the career Woods had."
Recently it's been shocking to see Tiger, 39, mis-hitting shots around the green like a high-handicapper. Woods suggests it's just a matter of timing as he beds-in his new swing, but McGinley is not so sure: "My hunch would be there's something bigger going on.
"If Rory's evolving towards his best golf, there's no doubt Tiger's peaked. That doesn't mean he's finished but, to borrow a phrase, he's on the back nine of his career.
"When you get to that stage, you not only have wear and tear on your mind and body from performing at such high intensity and under the scrutiny Tiger's endured for 20 years. He's also got a lot going on in his life outside of golf.
"He's evolving as a human so maybe that's one of the reasons why all of a sudden his focus is not here any more."
While McIlroy has already succeeded Woods at No 1, he's yet to emulate Tiger's once-famous ability to win across a wide range of conditions.
Citing Woods' 2006 Open victory at Hoylake, McGinley explains: "Tiger showed two disciplines there - massive ball control and incredible patience to win on a hard, fast links.
"If he wants to reach the heights achieved by Tiger, Rory knows that's one thing he must improve on, though he's certainly more patient than he was two years ago.
"Of course he'll slip up occasionally (like at Doral, where McIlroy tossed his 3-iron into the lake). But we all make mistakes. You put your hand up, say: 'yeah I was wrong, sorry I did that', make a little bit of fun out of it, then move on. He's young, he's learning. Few of us were patient in our early 20's. Rory's proved he's able to learn from his mistakes," says McGinley.
Yet patience is the virtue that could make McIlroy a winner at Augusta.
"To use his own words, he's got to become a little more patient on the greens because he hits so many of then and therefore gives himself so many opportunities," says McGinley.
"That's particularly important around Augusta. You can hit it to within seven or eight feet all day but can end up with putts that have an 18 inch break and you're not going to hole as many as you might elsewhere. So patience is a big for him this week."
McIlroy occasionally is capable of cowing opponents the way Tiger used.
"He knows nobody else can match him when he finds that extra gear," McGinley adds. "If Rory drives the ball like Rory can, he'll intimidate others, maybe not as much as Tiger used but he's getting there."
McIlroy the Special One but not like Mourinho
Rory McIlroy is 'the special one' in golf but, Paul McGinley suspects, is more aware of his duty to foster the image of his sport than Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho.
Asked if McIlroy's hopes of being rated alongside Tiger Woods might be based on the number of Major titles he wins, McGinley responded: "That's a really interesting question. Is it all about winning titles? Is it all about the Mourinho way of I'm going to get as many medals and titles as I can?
"Or is it, I'm the No 1 player in the world - I represent a lot of people and the game of golf to a large extent. Am I going to become somebody like Tiger did, an iconic figure in world sport, and try to introduce and propel the game forward and represent the game well?
"My hunch, knowing Rory, is that it's more about representing that No 1 position and bringing as many titles along with it as he can," added the Ryder Cup captain. Some might argue about Woods representing the game well but all football outside of Stamford Bridge would take the point.