Wednesday 20 November 2019

'Pressure' game a perfect match for ruthless McIlroy

Rory McIlroy keeps his trophy under the protection of San Francisco’s finest
Rory McIlroy keeps his trophy under the protection of San Francisco’s finest

Liam Kelly

Rory McIlroy is the smiling assassin who lives by the motto of former Republic of Ireland soccer team manager Jack Charlton - 'Put them under pressure.'

Gary Woodland saw both sides of McIlroy's character, as did Billy Horschel, Paul Casey, and Jim Furyk in the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship.

They all died a death from McIlroy's ability to squeeze the oxygen out of their mental and physical golf games when it counted in the cut and thrust of key matches.

Woodland spoke after Sunday's final in which the American lost 4&2 to the World No 1 of how Mr Nice Guy turned into Tony Soprano in terms of match play ruthlessness when his survival was threatened.

"I really like Rory. We had a good time. We're good friends. We talked all through the match today. But when I missed the putt on 13, he definitely flipped another switch. He didn't miss a shot coming in after that," said Woodland.

McIlroy, who celebrated his 26th birthday yesterday with a well-earned day off and a $1.57 million-dollar cheque in the bank, did not hesitate to generate an enhanced level of aggression in his game when the outcome hung in the balance.

"Honestly those first few holes with Gary, that was probably the most relaxed or jovial or whatever you want to call it, that I've been the whole week, because I know Gary well and I get on really well with him.

"There's no point in not talking to someone if you're usually friendly with them and all that sort of stuff. But we're both trying to win a tournament at the same time. Once I got up on the match, I just tried to up the intensity a little bit and take advantage of that, and that's what I was able to do," said McIlroy.

The 'flipping the switch' happened when it was most needed against Horschel in the Group One decider on Friday, and again against Paul Casey in the quarter-final on Saturday and extra-time on Sunday morning.

Jim Furyk thought he had McIlroy on the ropes in the semi-final when he led by one hole after 16, but a birdie-eagle finish ended those ambitions.

And in the final, Woodland had the temerity to stage a comeback from four down to two down, which jolted McIlroy.

The American let his opponent off the hook, as he said, on 13; then on the 14th, he hooked his drive left into trouble. Game effectively over right there.

It's all about the intensity that McIlroy can and will apply if given the opportunity.

"In my mind, it was always, 'If I can just apply a little bit of pressure, just make them feel it a little bit'," said McIlroy.

"I was able to do that in my matches when I needed to do against Billy and Paul and against Jim. And when I applied that little bit of pressure, I was able to take advantage of that."

Reflecting on key moments, McIlroy elaborated on his theme.

"I hit a good chip shot against Paul last night (Saturday) on 17, and he blew his putt by and missed the one coming back.

"That chip shot might have just gotten into his head a little bit.

"Same thing against Billy on that 17th hole (on Friday).

"I hit a really good tee-shot in there, and him seeing that tee-shot might have made him feel a little more pressure, and I was able to hole the putt.

"That's all you're thinking about, just put them under any sort of pressure that you can, and see how they react to it," said McIlroy.

The next challenge awaits in The Players Championship at Sawgrass, starting on Thursday, and McIlroy is optimistic.

"I don't feel like there will be any sort of fatigue or tiredness," said the Match Play champion.

McIlroy will be joined by Pádraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry and Darren Clarke in a field which also includes the hot new kid on the block, Jordan Spieth.

On the domestic front, Tour players Peter Lawrie and Damien McGrane will play in The K Club-Newstalk Irish PGA Pro-Am at Straffan today and tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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