Saturday 14 December 2019

Irish aces unlikely to be paired for 'tactical reasons'

Europe's Ryder Cup captain says he is keeping his options open on the issue of playing Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell together at Gleneagles. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Europe's Ryder Cup captain says he is keeping his options open on the issue of playing Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell together at Gleneagles. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Karl MacGinty

Everyone's singing from the same hymn sheet at Gleneagles when it comes to Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, with Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley once again joining the chorus yesterday.

There are no issues between the two Ulstermen arising out of McIlroy's legal battle with Horizon, insisted the European skipper, who then revealed he may not require them to play together this week for different reasons.

Their relationship "is not an issue nor has it been an issue for me as since these court proceedings started," said McGinley when the subject arose during yesterday's joint press conference with Tom Watson, the traditional opening gambit in Ryder Cup week.

McIlroy and McDowell both insist they've no problem playing with each other at Gleneagles, if required, G-Mac even asserting in his BBC blog: "If anything, our friendship has been strengthened by what we have experienced."

"Both have assured me all along there are no issues and that's the way I've always seen it," said McGinley, who then added: "Whether they (play) together or not is another story.

"Three or four months ago, I'd a strong view that they would have been but the more I look at the statistics and the more I look at the different (status) in the team, I'm thinking there may be a value in not doing it.

Options

"If I don't do it," he went on, "it certainly won't be because of any issues. I've got a lot of options with them but if I don't decide to play them, it would be for tactical reasons only.

"They have played six Ryder Cup matches and they have won only two together so it's not like these guys (partnership) is written in stone. They are not a formidable foursome (two points out of four games). They are not a fourball pairing that's unbeatable (half a point out of two games).

"Having said that, there's no reason why they wouldn't play together. When I was captain at the Seve Trophy in 2009, I paired them together and they played very well (winning three points out of four). So I've got lots of options with them but they don't have to be together."

Confused?

Well, as he left the briefing, McGinley pointed out that when they flourished together five years ago in the Seve Trophy, McDowell dominated the pairing.

That also would have applied on the occasion of McIlroy's Ryder Cup debut at Celtic Manor in 2010. In the intervening years, however, the 25-year-old has graduated into a four-time Major champion and, at No 1 in the world, is a clear rival to Ian Poulter as European team leader.

So the golf dynamic in their relationship has changed significantly, which, has nothing to do with proceedings in the Dublin Commercial Court. It makes perfect sense for McGinley to consider playing both battle-hardened Ryder Cup veterans with any of the three rookies in the team at Gleneagles. McDowell, for example, is seen as a solid partner for Victor Dubuisson.

Speculation that McGinley might send out McIlroy with Ian Poulter on Friday morning in the same high-powered fourballs partnership which sparked Europe's Saturday afternoon revival in Medinah appears risky in the extreme.

Opening up the Ryder Cup with his two big guns in the same fourball backfired badly for US captain Hal Sutton in 2004 when his dream team of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were gunned-down by Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie, putting Europe on the road to a record victory.

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