Saturday 20 January 2018

McIlroy's ill-advised remarks gift Tiger psychological edge

Karl MacGinty

NOT for the first time in his fledgling career, Rory McIlroy's words have come back to haunt him at Celtic Manor this week.

Ryder Cup rookies face enough pressure on their first visit to golf's most intimidating arena, but in recent days McIlroy's been made to feel he's wearing a bullseye on his back.

The 21-year-old did Woods and his US team-mates a huge favour when he said in a radio interview last month that "unless Tiger's game rapidly improves over the next month or so, I think anyone on the European team would fancy their chances against him".

This pithy remark will not have caused Woods to lose much sleep, but it gave him an opportunity to turn the psychological screw on McIlroy.

And boy did he seize on it, using the youngster's words to motivate himself and, at the same time, shove McIlroy squarely into the eye of a media storm when he least needs it. Without doubt, one of the Holywood youngster's most endearing features has been his refreshing honesty, yet it has also become an Achilles heel.

Sadly, he now must learn once and for all that the best policy when discussing one's rivals in professional golf is to tell anything but the truth.

McIlroy's landed himself in hot water before; not least before last November's Dubai World Championship when he handed his vastly experienced rival in the Race to Dubai, Lee Westwood, a huge psychological advantage by saying he was glad the two of them would not be paired together in the second round.

It was honest and true, but Westwood, in his moment of victory, would describe that remark as "obviously a massive feather in my cap.

"There's nothing worse to say than that if you're Rory," the Englishman explained. "And he'll learn from that. There's nothing better for me than a competitor to say they are glad they are not playing with me.

"Sometimes what you say off the course and the mind games you play are as important as the pressure you can put on people on the course," said Westwood, adding it gave him a chance to "bully" his gifted young rival.

McIlroy handed Woods the same opportunity in the run-up to this Ryder Cup. With both sides so finely balanced going into tomorrow's opening series of matches, knocking Europe's most gifted young player off kilter could tip the balance.

The thought of handing the Americans an advantage, however small, in the psychological war which takes place at every Ryder Cup will have hurt McIlroy the most.

McIlroy's description last year of the Ryder Cup as "an exhibition" and stating the obvious truth that, as a professional athlete, it'd mean more for him career-wise to win a Major title or World Golf Championship, sparked an unnecessary storm which rumbled right up to last week.

It was interesting to compare McIlroy's candid assertion that he'd compete for Great Britain at the Olympics in 2016 with Graeme McDowell's suggestion that he'd be happy to play for any team that'd have him.

Naturally, the youngster is entitled to opt for the country of his choice, but 31-year-old McDowell's discretion cannily defused any potential controversy.

Of course, the US Open champion has 10 years on his young friend and McDowell didn't have to grow up and make the inevitable mistake or two in the same harsh media glare as McIlroy.

Yet the kid must learn from his mistakes.

Irish Independent

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