Tuesday 24 October 2017

Karl MacGinty: Padraig’s forecast of record Rory haul not looking so crazy now

Despite their high-profile relationship Caroline Wozniacki has had a hugely positive effect on Rory McIlroy's career
Despite their high-profile relationship Caroline Wozniacki has had a hugely positive effect on Rory McIlroy's career

Karl McGinty

INFORMED at Congressional last year of Padraig Harrington's assertion that he might one day rival the 18 Major titles won by Jack Nicklaus, Rory McIlroy famously shook his tousled head and said "Oh Paddy, Paddy, Paddy!"

The Holywood youngster uttered those words on Saturday evening at the 2011 US Open, on the eve of his stunning breakthrough victory at the Majors. "You know, I'm still looking for my first one," added McIlroy as laughter rippled around the room.

Sixteen months later, nobody's laughing. Indeed, as McIlroy sits at the top of the world with a second record-shattering Major victory under his belt, it's perfectly logical to argue that he'll win more Grand Slam events than Tiger Woods.

No question, Tiger has been the greatest player of his or, arguably, any generation, and it's difficult to envisage anyone exceeding this once-prolific predator's haul (so far) of 74 US Tour wins or his tally of 100-plus victories around the world.

intensity

McIlroy readily concedes that he doesn't have the same "intensity Tiger brings to every week -- the impressive way he can turn it off and on. That's something I struggle to do sometimes, though I can generally bring it to the big events where I really want to do well."

Yet when McIlroy hits the 'on' switch, he's virtually unbeatable, as he proved during his Tigeresque hat-trick of wins in an earth-rocking four weeks at the US PGA, Deutsche Bank and BMW Championships.

Indeed, McIlroy appears better equipped mentally and physically than Woods to deal with the ravages of wear, tear and time.

For example, Tiger has spent the past year bedding in the third major swing change of his professional career under latest coach Sean Foley.

The first came in 1998 as Woods and Butch Harmon tried to apply better focus and control to the phenomenal power in his young frame. The second and third, with Hank Haney and now Foley, were prompted by his need to compensate for the joint damage wreaked by that explosive strength.

By comparison, McIlroy's action is more rhythmic and natural. While there's a lot of torque in his swing, the Ulsterman and his coach since boyhood, Michael Bannon, have developed it to the point where he appears to generate prodigious length with remarkable ease.

From the moment he first clapped eyes on McIlroy in Dubai seven years ago, one of Tiger's closest mentors, Mark O'Meara, said the Irish youngster was "technically more gifted" than Woods ... and that smooth technique will stand to him in the coming decades.

More importantly, McIlroy has a life outside of his sport. Preposterously, some pointed an accusing finger at his relationship with Caroline Wozniacki when the youngster's form dipped in late spring and early summer.

In fact, the Danish tennis star has had and will continue to have a hugely positive effect on McIlroy's career by offering him safe haven from the maelstrom on Tour.

All his life, Tiger's horizon has been dominated by his pursuit of Nicklaus' 18 Major titles. Tour insiders and various members of the Woods entourage used speak at length about his dedication to his sport and to winning, as if nothing else counted.

Eventually, something had to give, and it most certainly did, in the shadowy years leading up to his infamous Thanksgiving night car crash.

His efforts to rebuild his career and confidence have been Herculean and Woods deserves credit for the four wins which propelled him back into McIlroy's wake as world No 2.

Both return to Tour action this week: McIlroy defends the 'unofficial' $2m first prize he won at Lake Malaren last autumn in the European Tour's $7m BMW Masters in Shanghai, while Tiger tees it up in the $6.1m PGA Tour promotion, the CIMB Classic at the Mines Resort in Kuala Lumpur.

So dominant have they become in world golf that McIlroy and Woods have been invited (for a reputed $1m each!) to play an 18-hole medal match play exhibition at Jinsha Lake Golf Club in China's Zhengzhou.

Interestingly, Tiger has prevailed in eight of their 10 head-to-head confrontations. Yet McIlroy is the man these days when it really counts ... and one expects that to continue at next season's Majors.

Irish Independent

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