Saturday 20 January 2018

'His creativeness can see him lose focus' - Paul McGinley urges Rory McIlroy to be mentally engaged

Rory McIlroy needs 100 per cent focus to win the Masters
Rory McIlroy needs 100 per cent focus to win the Masters

Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy must rediscover the focus which delivered a USD 11.5million payday in order to complete the career grand slam at the Masters.

That is the view of 2014 Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, who believes McIlroy will relish the challenge of taking on the likes of world number one Dustin Johnson and former champion Jordan Spieth at Augusta National.

Johnson was top of the standings heading into the Tour Championship last September, but missed out on the USD 10million bonus for winning the overall FedEx Cup title after McIlroy's play-off victory over Ryan Moore and Kevin Chappell.

The 32-year-old American has gone from strength to strength ever since, with victories in his last three starts making him a worthy favourite for the first major championship of the year.

McIlroy's preparation has been hampered by a stress fracture of the ribs, but the world number two has finished no worse than seventh in his three strokeplay events in 2017.

"It's a very important Masters for Rory, arguably now the most important major for him because he wants to complete the grand slam and join those five people (Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods) in history," said McGinley, who will be commentating at Augusta for Sky Sports, the only place to watch all four days live.

"It would be an incredible achievement, not just for Rory but for European golf as well, because none of the previous five are European.

"I think his game will be there, it's more the other stuff around it - the focus, the concentration you need and the competitive juices, the competitive play you need under your belt to play major championships.

"He's missed a chunk of the season but he can make it up. He's not a guy who needs a huge amount of hours on the clock and rounds under his belt to feel that he can compete. He's an intuitive player. He's an inspirational player.

"It's about creating that mindset he had when he came from behind to take down Dustin Johnson and win the FedEx. He was 101 per cent mentally engaged to win that tournament. He was inspired. That will dictate how well he does in Augusta."

Asked why McIlroy can sometimes lack focus, McGinley added: "I think it's the nature of who he is. That creativeness that has allowed him to play at such a high level also sees him switch off now and again and lose focus.

"That will always be his challenge. It's one of the things that makes his so enthralling. He goes through barren patches, then from nowhere comes through and has everyone gripped by the standard of his play. That see-saw performance is the thing that is such a big part of his appeal.

"We saw the focus last year at the FedEx. That was the stage for Rory, he played with a smile on his face, the strut of his shoulders, loving the chase of catching DJ, who had a big lead going into the last round. That is the mindset he his going to need."

McIlroy's first attempt to complete the career grand slam ended in honourable failure with a share of fourth in 2015, while he was one shot off the halfway lead in 2016 before a third round of 77.

"There is a reason why only five players have done it," McGinley added. "It's a big mental challenge and if Rory wants to join these greats he has got to deal with it. That's why you become one of the greats of the game. That's the challenge in front of him.

"Nobody from Europe has ever done it, so it's a chance for history, a chance for a landmark, a chance for someone from the modern era, and it would certainly set down a marker regarding all the other contemporaries if he achieves a grand slam still in his 20s."

Contemporaries such as Johnson, Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler have all won in 2017, but McGinley added: "That's great news for Rory.

"He's always been able to react to other people's success in a very positive way. It lights his fire. He enjoys the challenge of going up against them. He's very confident of beating them in a head-to-head. All of those wins are brilliant news for Rory. It couldn't be any better."

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