Monday 22 January 2018

Off the Ball: Swashbuckling McIlroy and Lowry both find their steel

Rory McIlroy sprays champagne after his victory at Wentworth on Sunday
Rory McIlroy sprays champagne after his victory at Wentworth on Sunday
Ireland's Rory McIlroy celebrates with the trophy after winning the BMW PGA Championships at the Wentworth Club, Surrey

Joe Molloy

It was perhaps around this time last year when we realised Rory McIlroy was in proper trouble. I was standing in the mixed zone at Wentworth on the Friday.

It was freezing cold, the rain was pouring down and Rory had just missed the cut. He'd been missing lots of cuts. And as his sparkling Nike clubs were being escorted off the premises, he cut an utterly dejected figure.

He was in the midst of another messy break-up, this time with his management company. He was lost somewhere between blaming his new clubs and his old swing, and the road back to greatness didn't feel straightforward.

Ultimately it hasn't been. Last year proved to be a lesson in humility and patience for a player not used to the afflictions of mere tour pros. But he kept going. And he learned the lessons.

This season he has been threatening to win all along. A bad round here and there meant he was making do with top 10s but no wins. Wentworth is not a course he enjoys. And then there was of course 'the break-up'.

In hindsight, it's very easy to talk about the golf course this week as something of a release for Rory. He said as much himself. But more than anything, the win highlights a mental resilience which the swashbuckling swing and corporate deals tend to overshadow. McIlroy has serious balls.

Take Sergio Garcia as the counterpoint – he freely admits that his break-up with Morgan-Leigh Norman, daughter of Greg, resulted in his game going down the toilet for several years.

He said at the time: "You can't do anything about it. I can't do well."

I'm not unsympathetic to Sergio's plight but life is hard and we all have to compartmentalise. It takes a bit of steel to do it well. It takes steel to win Majors.

Just behind Rory on Sunday was Shane Lowry. I spoke with him a few months ago at the GUI headquarters at Carton House where he proclaimed: "I'm getting a putting mat!"

The dining room table in his apartment was being replaced. The mat was to take centre stage – "It can't do any harm," he argued.

At that point, Lowry wasn't happy with his putting or his season. And while the early part of 2013 had been spent beating McIlroy in the WGC World Matchplay, 2014 had been full of no-mark events in Asia on the European Tour.

It all felt very slow and sluggish. He couldn't get things going. All along he pin-pointed Wentworth as the real start of his season and a tournament he needed to do well in.

He was fantastic, right from the Thursday. And it kickstarts a good run of tournaments for him, which now includes the US Open at Pinehurst No 2 in June. On Monday's show, Des Smyth told us Lowry's short game is as good as anyone's in the world. A top 50 ranking beckons surely.

Two young lads from Ireland with big balls. Good to see.

Irish Independent

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