Thursday 23 March 2017

McIlroy eyes fresh approach

Karl MacGinty at Wentworth

Rory McIlroy tees off during the Pro-Am at Wentworth yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Rory McIlroy tees off during the Pro-Am at Wentworth yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

The Green Jacket gleamed almost as brightly under the spotlights as Masters champion Charl Schwartzel's toothy smile.

Schwartzel received a rapturous ovation as he stepped onto the stage, yet, even at that triumphal moment for the South African, the eyes and thoughts of many at the European Tour's Annual Banquet turned to Rory McIlroy.

Amid the jubilant fanfare for a year of astonishing achievement in which Europe regained the Ryder Cup and its Tour members won all four Majors, the young Ulsterman suddenly was confronted by what might have been.

Seated with girlfriend Holly at a table in the middle of the crowded room, McIlroy gamely joined in the applause for his friend and stablemate at International Sports Management.

Yet he admitted yesterday the sight of Schwartzel wearing that jacket was painful and poignant. "Yeah, of course," was McIlroy's candid reply when asked if he thought 'that could be me'.

"It's tough but, you know, I'm a big boy. I could go to the US Open in a few weeks' time and it could all be forgotten."

Short game guru Dave Stockton (69), a former US Ryder Cup captain and two-times Major champion, is confident he can help McIlroy leave that nightmarish final-round 80 at Augusta National far behind.

Confidence

Long revered in America for his prowess with the putter, Stockton famously helped Phil Mickelson rediscover his touch and confidence on the green to win The Masters in 2010.

After meeting McIlroy for the first time at Quail Hollow a fortnight back, Stockton had a second session with the 22-year-old at Wentworth yesterday, on the eve of the BMW PGA Championship, Europe's €4.5m showpiece.

"It was nice to get the call and he's certainly neat to work with," Stockton said. "We met for the first time at Quail Hollow and I'm amazed how much he's picked up in two weeks. Rory says he doesn't practice much, but he obviously worked on it.

"I'm just trying to make it natural," added Stockton, who felt empathy for McIlroy as the youngster crashed out of contention at The Masters. "I've been there, I know what it's like. I lost a two-shot lead to Gary Player in the final round at Augusta in 1974.

"I like the idea that Rory missed all his putts to the left, which is much easier to fix than somebody who misses them right," said Stockton, insisting McIlroy's technique is fine.

"I think he's got to learn patience. On longer putts, 12 feet and out, Rory's relaxed and rolls it. I see a different kind of approach, almost an attack mode, on a five, six or seven-foot putt ... he's just trying too hard to make it instead of simply letting the natural flow go as he would on a 15-footer.

"We've mostly worked on routine and how to approach a putt, nothing really technical," McIlroy confirmed. "It's just about trying to free up a little bit the putts under 10 feet.

The player himself said: "I feel I was taking a little too long over them, having three looks at the hole while taking my practice strokes. I used to take three practice strokes but don't take any now. It's more instinctive, just one look at the hole and go."

Stockton's next session with McIlroy is scheduled for US Open week at Congressional, where the American won the US PGA in 1976. If he can help his young charge achieve his Major ambition there next month, the sting of Augusta would be drawn.

In the meantime, world No 6 McIlroy's famed ball-striking skills are likely to stand him in good stead as he takes on those four Major champions and four of the five players ahead of him in the global rankings this week.

G-Mac welcomes thaw in relations

FROSTY ... that's how Graeme McDowell described the atmosphere between himself and Rory McIlroy when they 'went to war' at the Volvo World Match Play.

The two pals then broke the ice over a beer on the flight home from the Costa del Sol last Saturday after McDowell gave McIlroy a lift on his private jet after the youngster's plane was grounded by technical problems.

"It definitely was a pretty frosty 16 holes but it had to be that way, you know, because we're very good friends," said McDowell, who won this first-ever clash 3&2, before losing to Nicolas Colsaerts.

The US Open champion hasn't shot the lights out in eight visits to the BMW PGA, while McIlroy's best finish in three outings was fifth in 2009 ... yet either could upstage world top-three Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer at Wentworth.

McDowell says he's nearing last summer's world-beating form. "The Wales Open last June probably was a 10 out of 10 for ball-striking, as good as I've ever played," he revealed. "Pebble Beach was a 9.5, yet New Orleans (last month) was 0.5.

"I'm back to seven or eight out of 10 now. I'd three and a half rounds of great golf at The Players," added McDowell, who'll join fellow Manchester United fan McIlroy in the rush from Wentworth to Wembley for Saturday evening's Champions League final.

Lawrie at the ready to put family first

PETER LAWRIE will be keeping one ear out for his phone on the Wentworth fairways. His wife Philippa is expecting their fourth child on Saturday and if the call comes, he'll make a beeline for home.

"Life always comes before money," said Lawrie, revealing he'd hire a car and head for the ferry if the volcanic ash cloud grounds flights.

"Thursday or Friday, I'll definitely come home but if I'm in contention on Sunday, we've agreed I'll finish out the round," explained the Dubliner, who gave up a gilt-edged chance to make the 2009 Seve Trophy team when he pulled out of the Mercedes-Benz Championship to attend the birth of his third daughter, Elizabeth.

Ireland's team at Wentworth is 11-strong and two of them, Darren Clarke and Michael Hoey, have won in the past three weeks.

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