Saturday 19 October 2019

McIlroy ready to kick season into top gear at Wentworth

Manchester United supporter Rory McIlroy with Michael Carrick during the BMW PGA Championship pro-am at Wentworth. Photo: Reuters
Manchester United supporter Rory McIlroy with Michael Carrick during the BMW PGA Championship pro-am at Wentworth. Photo: Reuters

Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy continues to rail against the downside of celebrity but he'll happily bask in the limelight at Wentworth if he can find the spark that re-ignites his season.

The world number eight tees it up in the $7 million BMW PGA Championship for the first time in three years with the unwanted tag of the UK's most famous sportsperson.

The Holywood native has more star power than Gareth Bale, Wayne Rooney or Lewis Hamilton, according to the 'ESPN Fame 100' list when it comes to social media following, Google Trend score and endorsement dollars.

But it all adds up to a big fat nothing for McIlroy, who judges himself on his golf alone.

And having failed to kick on from his thrilling Arnold Palmer Invitational win and fizzled out at Augusta National, Quail Hollow and Sawgrass, he's hoping this will be a watershed week.

"I dreamed of being a great golfer," McIlroy told reporters at Wentworth where his 2014 victory heralded a magical summer that saw him double his Major tally. "I never dreamed of all this other stuff.

"I feel very privileged that I'm in the position that I'm in, but I just try to live my life the way I normally would. I never wanted to be famous. I wanted to be known for my golf and that was it."

On the dark side of global celebrity status, he added: "Everyone knows what you do 24 hours of the day. You can't really get away from it too much.

"That's why I've tried to withdraw from social media and keep my life more private. As time has gone on, I've started to value that part of my life more."

McIlroy hasn't won a Major since that 2014 US PGA took his haul to four, and six weeks after shooting a lifeless 74 in the final group to finish tied fifth in the Masters, he's hitting the reset button.

He believes his indifferent displays in the Wells Fargo (16th) and The Players Championship (missed cut) were down to swing kinks he's since ironed out.

And while he has often felt "handcuffed" at Wentworth's West Course, missing the cut four times out of eight, McIlroy also knows a win this week could set him up for a repeat of that magical summer of 2014.

He came from seven shots behind Thomas Bjorn with a closing 66 to win at Wentworth four years ago before going on to claim The Open, the Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA in successive starts.

"It did snowball from there, and I got on to a nice little bit of a hot streak," he said, insisting he's "well over" his Masters disappointment. "I'd love to be able to do something like that again.

"I've got a busy summer coming up. We still have three Majors and the Ryder Cup, and everything else. Maybe this could be the spark that gets that all going again."

Shane Lowry (31), who finished second to McIlroy in 2014, will get a chance to show Ryder Cup skipper Thomas Bjorn and vice-captain Graeme McDowell that he's ready to challenge for a spot in the team for Paris at one of his favourite venues.

Bjorn will be keeping a weather eye out for the in-form Paul Dunne (25) who goes out with Ernie Els and Matthew Fitzpatrick seeking a second European Tour win on English soil that would catapult him into the Ryder Cup reckoning as well as next month's US Open.

As for Pádraig Harrington (46), he'll be keeping a vice-captain's eye on Rafa Cabrera Bello and Ross Fisher at a venue that's far from a happy hunting ground, while Darren Clarke (49) will have low expectations as he plays for the first time in two months.

Séamus Power is the lone Irishman in action on the PGA Tour in Texas, joining Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler in the Forth Worth Invitational at Colonial Country Club.

On the PGA Champions Tour, Brendan McGovern tees it up alongside John Huston and David Frost in the $3 million (€2.56m) KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores in Michigan hoping to make hay.

Gavin Moynihan will be bidding to make his first tour cut since last November when he joins Jack Hume, Stuart Grehan, Michael Hoey, Jonathan Caldwell, Dermot McElroy and Gary Hurley in the Challenge Tour's D&D REAL Czech Challenge.

Irish Independent

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