Thursday 22 February 2018

'They are pounding the gym and pounding their bodies so hard...are there going to be effects going forward?'

Paul McGinley tells Brian Keogh that health is Rory McIlroy’s biggest challenge in build-up to the Masters and his bid for a career Grand Slam

Rory McIlroy's preparations include a 5.30am wake-up call and double sessions in the gym
Rory McIlroy's preparations include a 5.30am wake-up call and double sessions in the gym

Paul McGinley believes Rory McIlroy is a dangerous beast when his pride is wounded.

But with just 80 days to go before the Masters, he's more interested in how the Holywood lion reacts physically to a gruelling, pre-Augusta schedule rather than his desire to prove he's the real king of the jungle.

Ahead of his return to action in Abu Dhabi this week, McIlroy (28) took to Instagram at the weekend to allay fears about his irregular heartbeat. But what fascinates McGinley is not McIlroy's ticker but how his body deals with the huge physical challenges posed by the modern game.

"I know a lot of analysis has gone on within his team for the last three months - a lot of analysis," McGinley said when asked what McIlroy might have learned about his body and scheduling after a winless 2017 marred by injury.

"I think he has learned a lot. He's a smart guy; he's intelligent; he's bright. But as everybody knows, you cannot play golf if you don't have a fit body. And that's the No 1 criteria nowadays."

McGinley was astounded to see Tiger Woods, just weeks after hinting his career might be over, swinging his fused back at 180mph during December's Hero World Challenge.

Paul McGinley at the GAA Games Development Conference organised in partnership with Sky Sports. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Paul McGinley at the GAA Games Development Conference organised in partnership with Sky Sports. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

"It doesn't add up but what I am saying is he is equipped," he said. "It all goes back to health, and I include Rickie (Fowler) and Justin (Thomas) and Jordan (Spieth). Are they going to have trouble in their 30s as Tiger did?

"With the power and speed that these guys are swinging and the amount of time they spend in the gym, what's going to happen when they get into their 30s like Rory is just entering now (he's 29 in May)?

"Are they all going to start breaking down earlier than the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino or Tom Watson? Probably, because it's a power game now and they are pounding the gym and pounding their bodies so hard from a very early age in order to play this modern game.

"Are there going to be effects going forward? I say yeah and I think that applies not just to Rory but everybody else."

McIlroy insists that he is unconcerned with his fall to 11th in the world rankings and is focused on getting back to winning ways, especially in the Majors.

"I don't fear any of them," he said "I've beaten them before. I know that I'm on track to where I want to be."

Now that he has talked the talk, McGinley wants to see if McIlroy can physically walk the walk. But he concedes that, when cornered, McIlroy can be lethal.

"If he's thinking that way -when he's threatened- that's when he's at his best," McGinley said. "Hopefully, he is thinking that way because that's when I think he's at his strongest.

He's drifted out to 11 in the world, which is way down on where he should be in terms of his talent. So he has ground to make up, and it's going to be great to see him go for it.

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

"And he's at his best when he's going for something rather than trying to maintain something. That's when he's at his most exhilarating."

McGinley is surprised that McIlroy, who has averaged 21 events a year since 2014, could play an unprecedented eight tournaments before he steps foot on August National's hallowed grounds, seeking the final leg of the career Grand Slam.

"That is going to be a major, major, major point to analyse, bearing in mind what I said about his physique and his body," he said. "Has this schedule worked for him or has it worked against him?

"It's more a schedule that a young rookie would make, not a seasoned player. But he's got this view, and it will be interesting to see whether his body will hold up to it.

"If there is any kind of a doubt at all about your body not functioning as you are starting to the downswing, it's a terrible place to be as a golfer."

As for September's Ryder Cup, McGinley is pleased the American media is "giddy" about US prospects after their win at Hazeltine and back-to-back Presidents Cup victories. "I am very confident," he said. "At the close of the year, 11 of the top 21 in the world were European; seven were American. That puts us in a very strong position, especially playing at home.

"The stats show that 80pc of matches over the last ten years - whether it be Solheim Cup, Walker Cup, Curtis Cup or Ryder Cup - have been won by the home team.

"I think we are in a tremendous position and America, or the American media let's say, are very giddy at the moment on the back of their Presidents Cup successes. So good. We like that space they are in."

As for the chances of Paul Dunne, Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell of making the team, McGinley believes the Portrush man would be best placed to get one of four picks, should he need one.

"If Graeme McDowell shows any form at all, he's a guy you would expect to have a legitimate chance of a pick," McGinley said, pointing to McDowell's two French Open wins and his Ryder Cup credentials.

"He would be odds-on for a pick as against Shane or Paul, who would be odds against, being rookies. They have got to find one of those eight spots. I am not saying they can't or won't be picked, but it is odds against."

With Thomas Bjorn opting to multiply the value of Ryder Cup points by 1.5 from the BMW PGA at Wentworth onwards in a bid to confection an in-form team, McGinley sees Rolex Series events such as the Irish Open as key.

With a stockbroker's eye for a trend, it all comes down to spotting form. "Go back 12-13 years, the winner of the Masters has always won between January and the Masters. So going back to Rory winning the Masters, let's see how he does in the next three months. That is going to determine much of where Rory is going to be going into Augusta."

McGinley does not "buy in" to the belief that Augusta National is tailor-made for McIlroy. But he knows that winning the career Grand Slam would put him in a special club.

"That's the elite of the elite of the elite," McGinley said, grinning. "Forget about getting near Nicklaus. Forget about winning more Majors than any other European, as he has talked about before.

"Getting into that Grand Slam club... it means he has sat the four examination papers and had a straight A-plus in all of them."

First up, however, comes the fitness test.

Irish Independent

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