Saturday 25 November 2017

Nicklaus defends McIlroy's short-game philosophy

Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty Images
Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty Images

Brian Keogh at Palm Beach

Jack Nicklaus has thrown his considerable clout behind Rory McIlroy's insistence that the short game is not the most important part of the sport.

Speaking on the eve of the Honda Classic, where he gave a 60-minute news conference to speak about the 25th anniversary of his 1986 Masters win, Nicklaus confessed that it was he who convinced McIlroy that the long game was by far the most important element of a golfer's armoury.

McIlroy (21) hit back at his short-game critics in Tucson last week when he insisted that it's the long game that wins tournaments and not chipping and putting.

"I don't care what anyone says about the short game being the most important. It's not," McIlroy said. "The long game puts you in position to have putts to win tournaments. Guys say you have to have a short game to win tournaments and it is not the case. Not at all."

'Golden Bear' Nicklaus won a record 18 Majors and while he holed a huge number of pressure putts inside 10 feet, his short game was easily his biggest weakness.

Backing McIlroy's faith in the long game as the way to Major glory, Nicklaus said: "I agree with Rory. In fact, it was me who told him so in the first place, when we had lunch last year.

"I told Rory that I never practised my short game because I felt like if I can hit 15 greens a round and hit a couple of par-fives in two and if I can make all my putts inside 10 feet, who cares where I chip it?"

McIlroy's brilliance from tee to green makes his short game seem ordinary by comparison with players such as Padraig Harrington or Accenture Match Play winner Luke Donald, but Nicklaus added: "Rory's a pretty good putter, it's just that sometimes it doesn't exactly go right where he wants it to. But that happens to us all."

World No 4 Graeme McDowell is one of the favourites to lift the title as he heads out with former Honda Classic winner Vijay Singh (48) and young gun Rickie Fowler (22). But when asked about the importance of the long game over the short game, he had no doubts.

"I think I would rather have the short game because I feel like a talent like Seve around the greens or what Luke has, you can frame a long game in around that," McDowell said.

"You can piece a long game around a short game. It's pretty tough to pick up the short game as you go along."

McIlroy, who can leap from eighth to fifth in the world rankings with a victory at Palm Beach, tees it up alongside world No 3 Donald and defending champion Camilo Villegas at the PGA National Champion Course.

The Holywood star caused a stir for his comments on Tiger Woods in a ghost-written first-person piece in the latest issue of 'Sports Illustrated', in which he describes the former world No 1 as an "ordinary" golfer these days.

Frustrated that he's been branded as a player who likes to attack Woods, McIlroy used Twitter to explain his views this week.

"Hate that the media thinks I'm taking jabs at Tiger all the time!" he wrote. "Best that's ever lived, EVER! Just not playing his best at the minute. If he plays his best we're all screwed!"

The Honda Classic,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 8.0

Irish Independent

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