Friday 24 November 2017

MacGinty's World of Golf: Robust McIlroy to seize power

Holywood hero poised for summer of sensational achievement following Wentworth masterclass

Rory McIlroy gets the champagne flowing at Wentworth on Sunday
Rory McIlroy gets the champagne flowing at Wentworth on Sunday

Karl MacGinty

FORGET for a moment the Caroline Wozniacki factor. If Rory McIlroy could do it, then perhaps the rest of us can too. As McIlroy said, he found "sanctuary" on the course from the emotional trauma one inevitably suffers following the break-up of a relationship.

Almost obscured by the sudden end of his engagement to the Danish tennis ace is the significance, in pure golfing terms, of McIlroy's win at the BMW PGA Championship.

The 25-year-old already has two Major titles, twice reached World No 1 and has topped €30m in career prize money. Yet on Sunday he appeared to step up to another level, which is sobering news indeed for his rivals.

McIlroy's long been acknowledged as the most naturally gifted golfer of his generation, blessed with more raw talent than Tiger Woods.

UNBEATABLE

On his day, he's simply unbeatable, as the Holywood native proved with his record-shattering victories at the 2011 US Open at Congressional and the 2012 US PGA on Kiawah Island.

Occasionally, however, McIlroy fell hostage to misfortune too easily on the golf course. His shoulders slumped too readily to permit real comparison with Tiger at his rampant best.

Yet Sunday's victory, McIlroy's first on the European Tour in 18 months, put the seal on a series of performances which may come to be seen as the 'new spring' in his career.

At Augusta, Quail Hollow and Sawgrass, he rolled with punches that in the past might have left him pouting on the ropes and came fighting back to claim top-10 finishes.

Over four days on the West Course at Wentworth, McIlroy underscored the blindingly rapid pace of his development this season by carving victory, in classic Tiger style, out of a tournament in which his play occasionally wavered between the slipshod and the stellar.

It is this which gave McIlroy most satisfaction and the opposition best pause for thought in The Memorial at Muirfield Village this week and the US Open at Pinehurst in a fortnight's time.

"I saved myself (last) Friday because I was three-over through nine and could have let that round get away from me," McIlroy explained. "I ended up shooting one-under-par. That's a thing I need to do. Instead of that being a 74 or a 75, it's a 71 and I'm still in a mix going into the weekend.

"That's something I didn't do the last few weeks. I had bad second rounds, but was able to come back and play well at the weekend and finish two or three short. This week, when the game wasn't quite there, I was able to grind out quite a decent score.

"It's going to be great," he added, anticipating the challenges which lie ahead. "I'm really looking forward to everything that's in store. I'm playing The Memorial Tournament (this) week, then the US Open and then it's a busy summer of golf leading up to the Open and beyond. I couldn't think of a better way to prepare for going back to the States and trying to win that third Major for myself and second US Open."

As he teed it up last Thursday, McIlroy wasn't sure how the break-up with his fiancée might affect him. He made a wobbly start, dropping a shot out of the deep, front greenside bunker at the second; followed up with a facile birdie at the long fourth; and then missed the green miles right off the tee on the way to a bogey four at five.

Yet the tenet of McIlroy's tournament and, potentially, his summer changed when he followed a birdie at six by holing from 130 yards with a pitching wedge for an eagle two at seven, one of two he'd land that day.

Once he found his rhythm on the course, the golfer McIlroy was in a comfort zone. In all, he would have four eagles at Wentworth. The momentary pause of his ball on the lip before dropping into the cup for his eagle at four on Sunday was the first hint that lady luck was on his side as he tried to fill the seven-stroke overnight gap between himself and 54-hole leader Thomas Bjorn.

Yet genius, not luck, underpinned McIlroy's title-winning five-birdie blitz down the back nine as he pipped Shane Lowry by one with a closing 66.

"I've played with Rory before, I've played with Tiger, with all of them," said Pablo Larrazabal, McIlroy's playing companion on Sunday. "Those guys are a different breed. They've always got something extra.

"They hit shots that look ordinary, but are actually unbelievable. On 17, he has 253 or 254 metres to the hole and hits a four-iron. Okay, it was downwind, but it would never occur to me to hit a four-iron from 253 metres. But those guys, they have that extra spark that makes them unique in history."

McIlroy's celebrations at Wentworth were understated, which, one suspects, was out of regard for Wozniacki. One can only imagine how tough it must have been for her to see her 'ex' win less than a week after their parting.

The victor went home to Holywood on Sunday evening to share this moment with his mother, Rosemary (his father, Gerry, was at Wentworth).

McIlroy flew to Ohio yesterday and, after Memorial, plans to get his first look at Pinehurst next week. But his new, more robust outlook is more significant than the layout of the US Open venue.

The injured Tiger is likely to spend another couple of months, at least, in rehab. Yet the McIlroy who won at Wentworth looks strong enough mentally to step into the breach. Expect a summer of sensational achievement for the Holywood hero.

Irish Independent

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