Wednesday 22 October 2014

Rory now talking the talk of a world No1

Open support for McGinley shows his new confidence and authority

Published 17/01/2013 | 05:00

Rory McIlroy drives off on the fifth hole during practice for the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship

THE world is forever looking for similarities between Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods... but it's the striking differences between these two phenomenal golfers which suggest the Holywood star can keep Woods in his shadow for the foreseeable future.

During a hugely dramatic week in this opulent, oil-rich corner of the Arabian Desert, Irish golf celebrated the appointment of its first Ryder Cup captain, with McIlroy playing a powerful role in ensuring the election went in Paul McGinley's favour on Tuesday night.

The confidence, authority and eloquence shown by McIlroy as he weighed-in on the Dubliner's behalf during Monday's launch of his lucrative, long-term contract with Nike was simply staggering.

As he and Woods prepared to go head-to-head together in the early hours of this morning in the first round of the Abu Dhabi Championship, it seemed pertinent to ask would Tiger, at age 23, have had the inclination, never mind the moxy, to stand up and commit himself so passionately to a cause?

Woods competed in such an impenetrable cocoon as he scaled spectacular heights in his career, the inevitable answer is 'no.'

Imperious

For the most part, he was imperious and aloof, at the top of his game. By comparison, McIlroy's determination to do everything in his power to ensure McGinley's talents received their just reward offered perfect testament to his maturity and an admirable sense of fair play.

The way in which the Northern Irishman has grown into the role of world No 1 over the past six months and his understanding of the responsibilities it should bring set him apart from Woods, as do the personal relationships he has forged with many of his fellows on Tour, including Tiger.

McGinley spoke yesterday of "feeling humbled" by the support he'd received from his fellow players on the European Tour, saying: "I'm really looking forward to repaying that loyalty" at Gleneagles in 2014.

Yet the Dubliner's own account of the two hours on Tuesday evening, in which his life-long dream became reality, reveal that side to McIlroy which many of his admirers may not be familiar.

As a member of the Tournament Players Committee, McGinley attended the bulk of Tuesday's meeting, until it came to the last item on the agenda, the Ryder Cup.

"I'm proposed by Paul Casey and at that stage I'm asked to give a reason why I should be captain," he recalled. "I spoke very briefly about what I'd like to do and then the course I would like to take. Then I left the room."

The Dubliner was escorted to his bedroom in the hotel by European Ryder Cup official Ed Kitson, so he'd know where to find McGinley when the decision was reached.

Gesture

"I called my brother Michael, who was waiting around the hotel. He came up. Then a knock on the door: it was Rory. He came into the room, wished me the very best of luck, said: 'I'll be thinking about you' and left. It was yet another fine gesture. Then Shane Lowry dropped by."

The Committee's deliberations on the Ryder Cup captaincy lasted just over an hour as they considered five candidates, McGinley and his principal rival Colin Montgomerie, plus Miguel Angel Jimenez and Scottish duo Sandy Lyle and Paul Lawrie. The latter discreetly informed the Tour last week that he wished to be considered for the post.

It's believed that four of the 10 committee members who took part in the debate were believed to be in Monty's camp going into the meeting, but the vast extent of McGinley's support among the Tour members left none in any doubt about the 46-year-old's credentials.

After the discussion went twice around the table, chairman Thomas Bjorn revealed McGinley was voted unanimously into office.

The Irishman was moved at his initial press conference when he saw several of his fellow Irishmen and friends appear at the back of the room, including McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, their fellow Dub Peter Lawrie, and Lowry.

Ryder Cup stars like Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell had tweeted their support for McGinley in his confrontation with Montgomerie, but McIlroy went well above and beyond the usual call of duty with his commitment and support.

"Absolutely," said McGinley. "That's some loyalty he showed me. It was great to see him coming into the back of the room in jeans and T-shirt and, like any Joe Soap, leaning against the wall with his arms folded listening to the press conference.

"Rory then hung around to have a drink afterwards with his mum and dad.

"What can I say. It makes you emotional to think someone could be that strongly behind you," McGinley explained, plainly moved.

Many of McIlroy's colleagues on the European Tour had been taken aback to see him nail his colours so firmly to the mast this week, though Jason Dufner, a member of the US team pipped by Europe at Medinah last September, was not.

Asked in Abu Dhabi yesterday if he'd been surprised by the gumption McIlroy had shown in standing-up for the new captain, Dufner said: "That's what happens when you're No 1 in the world. It's pretty easy."

Even for a 23-year-old? "Age is just a number. You know, you've got a lot of clout when you're No 1 in the world. People kind of take notice of what you're saying."

Yet even Dufner was ready to concede that the self-assurance McIlroy showed in this instance might help explain how he became No 1. "Definitely. People who are successful have characteristics. Putting your opinion out there and sticking to it is one of those things."

McIlroy has grown so much in the 12 months since he and Tiger played together for the first time at last January's Abu Dhabi Championship. He won his second Major title, bought a €7.15m ($9.5m) home in Florida and, in teaming up with Woods in the Nike stable, also joined him among world sport's biggest earners.

Asked about his development in that time, McIlroy said: "I'd like to think I'm a better player, a smarter player. Twelve months on, you gain experience from different things on and off the golf course. You know, it'd be disappointing if I didn't think I was a wiser person sitting here now than I was then."

McIlroy's golf swing is smoother and looks infinitely more enduring than Tiger's. Meanwhile, the life he shares with Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki and a strong retinue of friends away from the golf course appears more balanced than the myopic existence of the young Woods.

The odds seem weighted against him as he takes his new set of clubs into Tour action for the first time today.

However, the Tigeresque ability to finish-out tournament displayed by McIlroy suggests he has the wherewithal to match or beat Woods on any given Sunday.

Irish Independent

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