Rory McIlroy will never putt like Jordan Spieth - Paul McGinley
Published 22/10/2015 | 02:30
Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry head the bunch as Ireland's Olympic golf hopefuls hit the bell in the race to Rio de Janeiro.
But while team leader Paul McGinley is energised by Ireland's chances of winning medals, he also fears the men could easily get boxed in and distracted in 2016.
While women's golf stars Stephanie Meadow and Leona Maguire have their own challenges, McGinley will be closely watching how quadruple Major-winner McIlroy and new world No 18 Lowry take on the challenges ahead
McIlroy has won three times this year but his ankle injury robbed him of the chance to defend The Open and he lost his world No 1 crown as Jordan Spieth and Jason Day streaked past him, capturing three of the season's four Majors between them.
The Holywood star has spoken in recent days about his erratic putting and how he has neglected those weaknesses this year. And while he has always vowed to concentrate on his strengths, McGinley fears the Holywood man could take his eye off the ball by trying to match Masters and US Open winner Spieth, or US PGA champion Day.
"The important thing for Rory is not to over-react to what they are doing," McGinley said at this week's announcement that Electric Ireland will sponsor Team Ireland in Rio.
"The important thing for him is not to try to be something, just because they are. It is important that he goes back to what got him there in the first place and stays true to what has proven to be a successful template so far rather than trying to be something that he might not necessarily be.
"Rory is a streaky putter. He is never going to putt like Jordan Spieth and he is absolutely right. He is not going to mechanise his stroke to be the best putter in the world because that is not his strength. He putts well enough."
McGinley was delighted to see Lowry win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and soar to 18th in the world.
But he sees 2016 as a make or break year for the Offaly man, who will be expected by fans to challenge for Majors and World Golf Championships when he should be quietly establishing himself in the world's top 20.
McGinley reasoned: "It is just a word of caution for everybody jumping on the Shane expectation bandwagon, thinking he is just going to keep going this way. He has a lot of hurdles to jump next year.
"If this time next year we are in a place where Shane has made the Ryder Cup team, made the Olympics, comfortably kept his card in America and has maybe won another tournament somewhere and stayed in the Top 20 in the world ranking, that will be massive for Shane.
"That's his goal. That to me is a realistic opportunity rather than try to shoot for the stars. Then he can look at conquering the world.
"He's at a platform now and he's at a level where he next 12 months are difficult because he is moving towards being away from all the stuff he gets energy from in Ireland.
"Yes, he's got confidence but he's got big hurdles to get over next year and I'm not going to say what's right. It's up to him to do what he thinks is best.
"But what I am saying is he has a lot of new things going on for the next 12 months.
"He is going to get married next year. He has got to get his membership on the PGA Tour and embed himself there and maintain the level of performance he has attained in the last few weeks."
While McIlroy and Lowry are resting ahead of next week's Turkish Airlines Open, fellow Olympic hopefuls Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington are joined by card-chasing Peter Lawrie and Kevin Phelan in the UBS Hong Kong Open.
Both Phelan and Lawrie, who is playing on his 17th invitation of the season, need top-six finishes to avoid a trip to Qualifying School.
Harrington won on the PGA Tour in March but needs a top-two finish to make the European Tour's Final Series, while McDowell is desperately trying to salvage a poor season.
"It's been a quiet year for me, but I feel like I've turned a corner," said McDowell, who is down 62 places to 77th in the world this year. "I think I'm really close. I've been hitting it much better the last few months."
On the Challenge Tour, Ruaidhri McGee and rookie Chris Selfridge tee it up in the $500,000 Foshan Open in China, the final regular event before the top 45 in the money list contest the season-ending NBO Golf Classic Grand Final in Oman next month.
McGee is 20th in the Road to Oman standings, €12,417 outside the top 15 who earn European Tour cards after the Grand Final, while Selfridge is 56th and needs a Top-12 finish to make the 45-man field for Oman.
Hong Kong Open, Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.0am