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McIlroy the Mood Master

When the mood takes him, he can play outstandingly, writes Dermot Gilleece

Posted Aug 13, 2012 by Dermot Gilleece

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As Rory McIlroy walked from the 17th green to the 18th tee at Kiawah Island on Sunday, he knew he was seven strokes clear of his nearest rival.  “Let’s win by eight,” he said to his caddie, JP Fitzgerald.  When a 20-foot putt from off the left edge of the final hole dropped improbably into the cup, he had secured that objective.  In fact his record victory margin for a PGA Championship was the same as he had achieved in the US Open at Congressional, 14 months ago.

In those final moments at Kiawah, we knew we had entered a new era in tournament golf.  Not long before McIlroy came up the 18th, Tiger Woods had finished in a manner so tame as to render his one-time invincibility a distant memory.  For a third successive Major championship, he had entered the final round in a challenging position, only to tumble dispiritedly out of contention.

Now it is McIlroy’s turn to dominate, prompting the inevitable speculation as to the heights he may reach.   Will he match what Woods has done?  Can he possibly overwhelm opponents as El Tigre did, for instance, with unprecedented dominance during 2000 and 2001 when he completed the stunning “Tiger Slam” of the US Open, Open Championship, PGA and the Masters?

My belief is that McIlroy will be a very different champion, simply because he is a very different person to Woods.  For a start, the Holywood star is nearly as driven as Woods was in his halcyon days.  I can’t see him grinding out victories in the same relentless manner.  It is simply not in his make-up.

McIlroy is more of a mood player.  In fact he attributed Sunday’s success to a marked change in attitude stemming from Firestone the previous week where he had a lengthy chat with his putting coach, Dave Stockton.  Effectively Stockton urged him to relax a bit more and project a happier, more up-beat attitude to the challenge of competing.  And after the disappointment of this year’s Masters, when he faltered badly on the Saturday, followed by similarly indifferent performances in the US Open and the Open Championship, the change was dramatic.

His every move last Sunday suggested absolute composure and confidence in the task at hand.  Not once, did he give prospective challengers any glimmer of hope that he might be about to falter.  When he made mistakes, they were of the recoverable variety, a fact underlined by the absence of any double-bogey on his cards over the four days.

As it happened, his final score of 275 - 13 under par - comprised 20 birdies, 45 pars and only seven bogeys, which was quite remarkable, when one considers a difficult second round of 75 on the Friday.  In many ways, that particular round was the key to his success.  In the past, there were occasions when difficult rounds caused his head to drop and his shoulders to sag with the almost inevitable consequence that a possible victory chance slipped inexorably away from him.  Not this time.  

In stark contrast to Woods, who struggled on the par fives, McIlroy played them in a total of eight under par over the four days.  This was a reflection not only of admirable strategy, but of the prodigious length which emanates from his quite ordinary frame of 5ft 9ins.   This can be attributed specifically to superb technique and the quickest hip action in the game.  Through a freak of nature, McIlroy has the ability to whip his hips through a shot at a significantly faster rate than any player on tour.  That’s where the power comes from.

But there is more, much more.  From the time I first saw as a lad of 13 at the launch of the Darren Clarke Foundation, I have always been taken by his innate intelligence and eagerness to learn.  The fact is that despite a modest, formal education, he can express himself publicly with an articulation and confidence superior to people twice his age.    This has allowed him make all the correct moves towards developing a wonderful, natural gift for hitting golf balls.  

I don’t believe McIlroy will ever become a prolific winner in the Woods mould.  But when the mood takes him, he will continue to produce performances of the highest quality, setting new standards for the Major Championships.  That will be the focus of his future endeavours and those who are set to witness those deeds, are in for a rather special treat.

- Dermot Gilleece

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