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Rory: Good short game not crucial

Rory McIlroy has hit back at the critics who reckon his short game -- especially his putting -- is holding him back in his bid to become a multiple winner.

The Holywood hotshot (21) admits that the biggest frustration of his fledgling professional career is "only winning twice in three and a half years."

But in contrast to triple Major champion Padraig Harrington, a true believer in the short-game ethic, he insists that there is an overemphasis on a player's ability to perform on and around the greens.

"I don't even begin to count fairways, and guys who hit greens are generally not winners," Harrington said.

But McIlroy begs to differ.

Believing he will be a tough opponent to "get rid of" when he faces the in-form American Jonathan Byrd in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play at Dove Mountain's Ritz Carlton Golf Club today, McIlroy said: "People only pick up on the negative parts of your game. But I know I am good from six feet and I know I am good from 25 feet.

"I don't hole my fair share of putts from 10 to 20 feet, but I hole putts in other areas to make up for that. It's like any good ball striker -- a Darren Clarke, an Angel Cabrera. Those guys are renowned for not being great putters, but the long game is the biggest part of the game.

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

If he beats Byrd, McIlroy will need to fire on all cylinders to emerge from the Gary Player bracket and potential showdowns with players such as Adam Scott, Jim Furyk, Miguel Angel Jimenez or world No 2 Martin Kaymer.

But his draw is a walk in the park compared to the 'Group of Death' where Harrington finds himself in the top half of the Sam Snead bracket.

Apart from his first round clash with two-time champion Geoff Ogilvy today, Harrington could face Tiger Woods or Thomas Bjorn in round two, followed by a potential clash with Dustin Johnson, Mark Wilson, Bubba Watson or Bill Haas, before a possible quarter-final encounter with the likes of Paul Casey, the runner-up for the last two years.

"Its unbelievable, isn't it," Harrington said of his draw. "You've got good players and then other players in great form. It's obviously tough."

Looking on the humourous side of his predicament, Harrington said: "If you were sitting down at a poker table with the eight people in my mini-group, and you were looking for the sucker, I don't see one. Normally, if you don't see the sucker at the poker table, you're it."

Harrington's early-season form has been erratic in the extreme, but he's hoping that his short game will be extra sharp, allowing him to attack pins aggressively and regain some of the matchplay mojo he has lost since he became a card-and-pencil touring pro.

But he also believes that his inconsistency this year makes him a dangerous prospect in the Group of Death.

"Nobody is going to be happy to see me either on the form I have shown this year," he said. "It has been erratic, either very good or very poor, so nobody likes that in matchplay."

World No 4 Graeme McDowell just hopes he isn't packing his bags at lunchtime on day one for the second year in a row when he faces Heath Slocum.

McDowell was quick to defend his Ryder Cup partner McIlroy with regard to criticism of his short game, stating that his fellow Ulsterman is a Major winner in waiting.

"Rory's golf brain is young, but he makes up for it with a lot of talent and skill," McDowell said. "And once the golf brain matures, and he keeps coming to golf courses like this, and Augusta, and Open golf courses, it's only a matter of time until he gets his head around it and how to control his talent.

"And it's going to be pretty scary what the guy can achieve."

WGC Accenture Match Play,

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Irish Independent