Sport Golf

Saturday 21 April 2018

Karl MacGinty: Harrington should make decision and hit the shot, Rory tells Tiger

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in conversation during their ‘Match at Mission Hills’ in Haikou, China, yesterday. The exhibition event was streamed live and saw both golfers wired for sound
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in conversation during their ‘Match at Mission Hills’ in Haikou, China, yesterday. The exhibition event was streamed live and saw both golfers wired for sound

Karl MacGinty

RORY McILROY reveals why he's going to take up residence in the US next year and make his $10.9m pad in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, his permanent home.

He gives the inside story on the new driver which will put him back on the glory trail; exposes a significant problem with his pitching wedge and admits to an annoying flaw in his putting.

McIlroy also expresses frustration with course set-ups on the European Tour, principally the way in which Lake Malaren played last Sunday at the BMW Masters.

All of this and much more arose in conversation with Tiger Woods when two of the world's most exciting golfers were wired for sound during their 'Match at Mission Hills' in Haikou, China.

Any doubts about one's sanity at getting up at 3.45 in the morning to watch the live streaming of this 18-hole exhibition on YouTube were dispelled within moments.

The unbridled nature of their conversation hit home even as the two golfers walked to the first tee and McIlroy made reference to his playing companion in Shanghai last Sunday, Padraig Harrington.

Initially, the 24-year-old chuckled as he recalled how he and Tiger took just four-and-a-half hours to play 36 friendly holes together at his local club, The Medalist, in South Florida last spring.

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"I've never seen anyone playing as fast as you that day," McIlroy went on.

"You hate slow play, don't you," Tiger responded. "On the Tour, you play fast."

"I do hate slow play," McIlroy insisted, adding: "I played with Harrington yesterday ... " The strident voice of a Chinese interpreter made it difficult to decipher precisely what he said next but it wasn't flattering.

"Oh," Tiger offered. "You know he (Harrington) has gotten better too, though."

"Yeah, I know but it's like 'just make the decision and hit the shot'," Rory said. "Anyway, you don't have to worry about that today."

Tiger interjected: "He backs off, on and off," to which McIlroy replied sympathetically: "Yeah, but the thing is, he's just not comfortable ... "

Both men knew their conversation was being aired, but, in their natural element, they were remarkably uninhibited. It wasn't easy listening at times as Tiger, suffering with an awful cold and plainly feverish, snuffled and snorted, while repeatedly asking caddie Joey LaCava to pass him a lozenge.

More delicate souls perhaps were outraged by the 'f-bombs' Woods dropped yesterday but, to the average golfer, his off-colour vocabulary fell well short of what's euphemistically described as 'industrial language' in soccer. So it didn't detract from the fascinating insight this exercise offered the genuine golf enthusiast.

Tiger certainly didn't spare the blushes of the PGA Tour as he castigated the cluttered end-of-summer tournament schedule in the US and questioned the wisdom of playing all four FedEx Cup play-offs in the space of five weeks.

"The amazing thing is that because of the wear and tear on the guys, everybody played like s*** at the Tour Championship," he said. "That golf course was set up so easy and nobody shot low scores. Nobody! Everybody was so tired and beat up."

"Look at next year," McIlroy opined. "There's going to be four in a row, plus Ryder Cup. That's going to be fun."

The European Tour didn't get off scot-free as McIlroy criticised the course set-up at Lake Malaren on Sunday, when he and Harrington slumped into a share of 27th with unimpressive closing 73s.

"It was very windy the first three days," he said. "The last day, they know it's going to be great weather, wind just three miles per hour, but they don't move back any of the tees they'd moved forward.

"It was a wedge into every par four. It's so annoying," added McIlroy, his anger making Tiger giggle.

"You want them to push the tees back to make it like a tough golf course," the Ulsterman went on. "The thing I find with the European Tour more than the PGA Tour is that players complain so much about course set-up.

"Lake Malaren's a 7,600 yards golf course and on a perfect day, they should have played it as that. If you were a few shots back on Sunday (the course was so undemanding), it just didn't give you a chance to make up ground on the field."

Woods reportedly was paid $2m and McIlroy $1.5m for their day's work at Mission Hills. A six-under-par 67 gave the Northern Irishman a one-stroke win over the world No 1, who was rusty after a two-week break. McIlroy also beat Woods by one shot in a similar event at Lake Jinsha last October.

Albeit an exhibition, this is McIlroy's first win in an intensely frustrating year. It was achieved in morale-boosting fashion as he played the back nine on the Blackstone Course in a stellar six-under ... watch out for him at the HSBC Champions this week.

Not everything went McIlroy's way. He made his customary double-bogey at the par-three seventh after missing the green and carelessly three-putting from six feet, then later berated himself for an annoying tendency to hit "so many left-to-right putts below the hole".

A couple of over-cooked approach shots led him to conclude that his pitching wedge is "too strong" and Tiger confirmed that at 46 degrees, its loft "is the same as my nine-iron" ... so there's one recent problem solved.

Yet McIlroy drove magnificently. As Woods complained of being uncomfortable with the enlarged 460cc head on the new Covert driver, McIlroy said "from the moment I first started hitting it (in July) I thought it was awesome.

"It's just a little more forgiving," he added. "Like I can hit it off the toe or the heel and it's tight.

"With the bigger head, it's got a slightly longer face so I feel like I can turn it over better ... I felt the last one, I was losing it to the right a lot but with this one, the clubface squares-up better at impact. As a result, I'm driving the ball much better, much straighter."

McIlroy, who sold his home in Moneyreagh, Co Down, and supplied an address in Monaco with his recent submission to Commercial Court, said of his decision to set up home in the US in 2014: "I'm done with hopping around the world.

"Next year, I want to feel I have a home (base) somewhere. On the off weeks I actually want to go (to my) home," he explained. Heartily agreeing, Woods intoned: "I have to let a little air out of my career too. I travel too much."

If the golf was good, especially on the back nine, the insight Woods and McIlroy gave was priceless. In future, all professionals should be wired for sound, with just one proviso – a time delay to bleep out any expletives.

Irish Independent

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