Monday 23 January 2017

McIlroy leads the way of the 10 Irish pros on Tour, but some must do better

Karl MacGinty

Published 13/12/2011 | 05:00

Rory McIlroy celebrates his dramatic Hong Kong Open win
Rory McIlroy celebrates his dramatic Hong Kong Open win

1. RORY McILROY: A THE world marvelled at Rory McIlroy's record-shattering victory at June's US Open, but 2011 has been of vast significance to the 22-year-old in many other ways.

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Effectively, Rory 'The Kid' has grown into McIlroy 'The Man'.

His careful sifting of the advice he received after that shocking Sunday meltdown at the Masters and putting it to such remarkable effect at Congressional 70 days later was as grown-up as it gets in golf.

Splitting with his long-time agent Chubby Chandler at ISM represented another watershed in McIlroy's career, while he has taken on board several painful lessons in the past 12 months -- like the necessity for discretion, careful thought and temperate language, both on the internet and in media conferences.

McIlroy also insists he'll never again stretch himself so far beyond physical endurance as he has during the past 12 weeks, when a crazy end-of-season schedule left him fatigued and battling dengue fever.

His visit to earthquake-torn Haiti as a sporting ambassador for UNICEF Ireland would have a profound impact on McIlroy, while parting from childhood sweetheart Holly Sweeney and finding romance with tennis superstar Caroline Wozniacki was typical of his remarkable year of transition.

2011 Facts -- World ranking: 2 (up 8). Events played: 24. Wins: 3 (US Open, Shanghai Masters, Hong Kong Open). Top-10s: 12. Missed cuts: 1. European Order of Merit: 2nd. On-course earnings: €6,003,125.

Performance -- Fairways 63.12pc, Driving Distance 300.88yds, Greens 76.39pc, Putts 29.7, Stroke Average 69.16.

2. DARREN CLARKE: B+

A lifelong quest ended at Royal St George's in July when Clarke, at 42, found a way to win the British Open and secure the Major title many feared would forever elude this gifted but moody Ulsterman.

Yet Clarke (right) has beaten his head off a veritable brick wall since Sandwich as he struggles to rediscover the serenity which made his Open victory possible and to cope with the expectations all new Major champions heap upon themselves.

2011 Facts -- World ranking: 46th (up 52). Events played: 24. Wins: 2 (Iberdrola Open and British Open). Other Top-10s: 1. Missed cuts: 6. Order of Merit: 11th. On-course earnings: €2,784,860.

Performance -- Fairways 74.44pc, Driving Distance 279.25yds, Greens 72.35pc, Putts 30.26, Stroke Average 70.77.

3. MICHAEL HOEY: B

It's all duck or no dinner for Hoey (32) who was world class in victory over Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell on 'Ulster Final Day' at the Dunhill Links, yet struggled to find fairways or hole putts most other weeks.

Two wins in 2011 underscore his gift, but the Belfast man had no other top-10s. He's qualified for the Open at Lytham next July and, in the mood, is good enough to win it.

2011 Facts -- World ranking: 102 (up 259). Events played: 27. Wins: 2 (Madeira Open and Dunhill Links). Other Top-10s: 0. Missed cuts: 8. Order of Merit: 25th. On-course earnings: €967,667.

Performance -- Fairways 51.18pc, Driving Distance 292.1yds, Greens 71.32pc, Putts 30.77, Stroke Average 71.72.

4. GRAEME McDOWELL: C+

The Portrush hero has been to hell and back this year. His dreams came true at the 2010 US Open and Ryder Cup and, almost inevitably, he crumbled under the weight of expectation in spring and early summer.

Yet he pulled himself and his ailing game back together in the autumn and will go into 2012 wiser, stronger and highly motivated.

2011 Facts -- World ranking: 14 (down 8). Events played: 29. Top-10s: 8. Missed cuts: 7. Order of Merit: 16th. US Money List: 86th. On-course earnings: €1,996,951.

Performance -- Fairways 62.7pc, Driving Distance 288.69yds. Greens 71.45pc, Putts 29.08, Stroke Average 71.

5. SHANE LOWRY: C+

There's a touch of class about Lowry, which he shows on big occasions, like the birdie-birdie-eagle finish to clinch fourth place at May's BMW PGA and his card for 2012 after missing the first three months of the season with a broken wrist.

Headline performances at Valderrama and Dubai also promise much, but 11 missed cuts suggest he needs to sharpen his focus on bread-and-butter weeks.

2011 Facts -- World ranking: 121 (up 40). Events played: 26. Top-10s: 5. Missed cuts: 11. Order of Merit: 41st. On-course earnings: €844,720.

Performance -- Fairways 67.94pc, Driving distance 289.13yds, Greens 68.82pc, Putts: 29.96, Stroke Average 71.29.

6. PETER LAWRIE: C

The highlight of Lawrie's year was the birth of his fourth child and first son last May. On the golf course, however, it has been a subdued year for the ever-steady Dubliner.

2011 Facts -- World ranking: 153 (down 47). Events played: 26. Top-10s: 2. Missed cuts: 4. Order of Merit: 58th. On-course earnings: €546,660.

Performance -- Fairways 74.44pc, Driving Distance 279.25yds, Greens 72.35pc, Putts 30.26, Stroke Average 70.77.

7. DAMIEN McGRANE: D

Renowned as one of the toughest grinders on Tour, McGrane's patience wore down in 2011 as he struggled to tuck away birdie putts. After seven consecutive years in the upper reaches, the Kells man, now 40, endured the grim side of life on Tour for the first time as he scrambled to save his card.

2011 Facts -- World ranking: 236 (down 117). Events played: 31. Top-10s: 2. Missed cuts: 12. DQ: 1. Order of Merit: 115th. On-course earnings: €258,939.

Performance -- Fairways 61.33pc, Driving Distance 280.04yds, Greens 65.58pc, Putts: 29.61, Stroke Average 71.69.

8. GARETH MAYBIN: D

It took a gutsy final-round 69 last Sunday week in the Hong Kong Open to save Maybin's card for 2012. After his polished first two years on Tour yielded €1.4m, the 31-year-old struggled from tee to green in 2011.

2011 Facts -- World ranking: 262 (down 152). Events played: 27. Top-10s: 2. Missed cuts: 12. WD: 1. Order of Merit: 117th. On-course earnings: €254,807.

Performance -- Fairways Hit 62.86pc, Driving Distance 278.17yds, Greens 64.33pc, Putts 29.24, Stroke Average 71.7.

9. PADRAIG HARRINGTON: F

By his own phenomenally high standards, Harrington's decline in 2011 was alarming; it was, without doubt, his worst year as a pro.

Apart from a flourish in the US in autumn 2009 and an Asian Tour win in Johor last year, his career path largely has been going only one way since he won his third Major title in 13 months in August 2008.

His problems started the following winter when he embarked on swing changes he hoped might bring him closer to perfection. They didn't and Harrington continued to fiddle as his ears burned.

He was also affected by the groove changes introduced at the start of last year, leading to a fall-off in his wedge play.

Yet a much more disturbing trend has emerged since mid-summer. Harrington's putting, the rock upon which his success has been built, is creaking.

How unfortunate that as he makes great strides under new swing coach Pete Cowen, he has become fallible on the greens. It's not uncommon for great players to lose that ring of confidence in their 40s. Has Father Time caught up with Irish golf's finest warhorse?

2011 Facts -- World ranking: 82 (down 57). Events played: 30. Top-10s: 5. Missed cuts: 7. DQ: 1. European Order of Merit: 67th. US Money List: 107th. On-course earnings: €936,421.

Performance -- Fairways Hit: 61.28pc, Driving Distance 300.68yds, Greens 71.88pc, Putts 29.53, Stroke Average 70.71.

PAUL McGINLEY: Exempt

Chronic injury problems once again undermined McGinley's performance in 2011.

Advised to opt for regenerative injections this winter instead of an eighth knee operation, he hopes this new treatment will permit him to play unhindered next year.

Third place at the KLM Open suggested he still had the right stuff, if fit. He'll be exempt in Europe in 2012 as a member of the Tour's top 40 in Career Official Earnings.

McGinley underscored his talents as a skipper in leading GB&I to victory again at the Seve Trophy but needs to be playing on Tour to win the Ryder Cup captaincy in 2014.

2011 Facts -- World ranking: 474 (down 26 places). Events played: 24. Top-10s: 1. Missed cuts: 12. WDs: 2. European Order of Merit: 152nd. On-course earnings: €145,662.

Performance -- Fairway: 65.42pc, Driving Distance 281.08yds, Greens 67.45pc, Putts 30.39, Average strokes 71.73.

Irish Independent

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