Monday 16 December 2019

Ambitious Rory McIlroy not resting on Open laurels

Rory McIlroy sits on the edge of a bunker as he holds the Claret Jug after winning the British Open Championship
Rory McIlroy sits on the edge of a bunker as he holds the Claret Jug after winning the British Open Championship

William S Callahan

Graeme McDowell can make life a little easier for European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley this weekend by performing up to expectations at the RBC Canadian Open.

While Rory McIlroy took a few days off to savour his British Open championship victory and get the Claret Jug wet in recent days, McDowell headed straight from Hoylake to Montreal for a tournament which could propel the Portrush man into the Ryder Cup team.

In fairness, McIlroy didn't dally too long in festive mode. It's a measure of the 25-year-old's sky-high ambition that last Sunday's win didn't weaken his appetite for a fourth Major title in the US PGA championship at Valhalla the week after next.

The Holywood star got back down to hard physical work in London as he underwent an exhaustive and exhausting series of physical tests at the Glaxo-SmithKline performance laboratory.

McIlroy is scheduled to fly back to the US tomorrow to begin his countdown to next week's Bridgestone World Golf Championship at Firestone.

The Blue Course at Royal Montreal should better suit the PGA Tour's top strategists rather than the boomers.


McDowell and his playing companion in today's first round, Luke Donald, are likely to find this golf course to their liking, as will two-time Canadian Open winner Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker, this week defending the title he won at Glen Abbey last summer.

Of this quartet, McDowell is the man in form. He leads the American Tour's all-important 'Strokes Gained Putting' category, which measures a player's performance against the field average in tournaments, and picked up a victory at the French Open two weeks ago.

Though McDowell slipped up with an untidy opening 74 at last week's Open, he came back with three rounds in the 60s to earn a share of ninth place on 10-under with, among others, the increasingly impressive Shane Lowry.

His win last year in the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town, a course which offers a similar challenge to Royal Montreal, is viewed as a pointer to the Ulsterman's prospects this weekend.

Matt Kuchar could say the same of his success last April at Hilton Head, when he pipped Donald, while Furyk and Snedeker also have won there.

Though Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood missed the cut at the Open and, like McDowell, still lie outside the all-important top nine who will win Ryder Cup berths, events at Hoylake left McGinley with more reason to be cheerful than his US counterpart Tom Watson.

If his performance on the links suggested he'll have little trouble forcing himself into the upper reaches of the Ryder Cup points table before his wife, Kristin, gives birth to their daughter on August 18, McDowell also boosted the European cause off the course.

Any suggestion of discord in the home locker room after McDowell's name was drawn into the Commercial Court battle between McIlroy and his former management company Horizon was dismissed as the Portrush native expressed his desire to renew their all-Ulster partnership at Gleneagles.

Currently, G-Mac is just 11.5 world ranking points outside of the top nine in the Ryder Cup charts, a mere trifle considering how well he's playing and the hundreds of points on offer over the next month. Though Poulter is just behind McDowell in the rankings, his lack-lustre recent form doesn't inspire confidence.

Neither does that of Westwood, who is another four spots further back.

Discussing his Ryder Cup prospects and his desire to play his way into the team, rather than rely on one of three picks, McDowell said: "Talking to the captain, he's told me I'm obviously in the frame but picks are going to be determined on current form.

"So you're not going to get a pick if you're not displaying form," he added. "There's no deserving it and there's nothing based on past Ryder Cups, maybe, unless you're Ian Poulter.

"If I'm not playing well and I'm not automatic, then I will not be relying on the pick. But if I'm close and I feel like I'm playing well, of course. At the end of the day, you'd prefer to qualify. There's a certain added pressure that comes with being a pick as well."

Even as he prepared for today's first round of the Senior Open at Royal Porthcawl, Watson fielded several questions about the wallowing Tiger Woods, who along with America's other iconic but misfiring star Phil Mickelson is outside the top nine, and hardly has shown good enough form to demand a wild card.

Woods finished 69th at the Open, four behind the 64-year-old US captain, though that hardly came as a surprise after Woods played just two competitive rounds since undergoing back surgery in March.

Creditably, Watson confronted the issue. "If Tiger's playing well and is in good health then I'll pick him," he said.

"The dilemma I have is if he doesn't make the FedEx Cup (play-offs), then he won't be competing up to September 2, when I make the captain's picks.

"Time will tell. Tiger could easily take care of business by playing very well the next couple of weeks at Firestone and the PGA Championship at Valhalla."

Rarely has the Senior Open been as keenly anticipated as Colin Montgomerie, winner of the Senior PGA and US Open in recent weeks, must see off the formidable challenge of evergreen Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez to complete a rare hat-trick in Wales.





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