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Rory will be just fine

He's going through a period of adjustment and can learn from Woods

Posted Nov 07, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece

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When this week’s inaugural Turkish Airlines Open was flagged by a gathering of stars for the so-called World Golf Final last autumn, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were centre-stage.  Woods is back, spearheading the tournament, but his young colleague has given it a miss: McIlroy did more than enough in China last weekend to guarantee his place in the European finale in Dubai.

It has been a decidedly odd year for him, throwing considerable light on the concept of failure for today’s leading practitioners.  “What’s wrong with Rory?” the chant goes out, as if he had found himself struggling in the gutter having scaled the heights of achievement at an enviable young age.  Which is typical of the lack of perspective in this sound-byte age.   

So, let’s try and make some sense of McIlroy’s current “plight.”  At 24, he is the world number six.  While struggling with his game, he has also managed to end the season in the US with tournament earnings of $1.8 million.  And heading to Dubai next week, he is ranked 38th on the European Tour with earnings of €662,091.  We can but imagine the number of decent players on both sides of the Atlantic who would kill for those sort of numbers.

Perhaps this is why he seems to find so much comfort in the company of Woods. For the current world number one, the public’s perception of failure is a season where he has failed to win an elusive 15th Major championship.  Never mind that he has won five tournaments, including the prestigious Players Championship.  The measurements for success have become so ridiculously defined as to make anything other than victory at the highest level, seem like failure.

Meanwhile, since the rivalry of the late 1970s and early ‘80s between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, golf has been waiting for the arrival of a comparably competitive duo and organisers seem to believe that McIlroy and Woods are the answer.  So it is that they had their first matchplay meeting in Turkey last year, followed by another “showdown” in Shanghai, which was repeated last week.

McIlroy accepts the situation with remarkable equanimity, possibly because of its value to his ever-increasing coffers.  There is also an obvious admiration, however, for the player who had been his boyhood idol.  “I always have a great time when Tiger and I play together,” he says.  “In fact I never say ‘good shot!’ as much as when I play with him.  He’s going to win more tournaments and he’s going to contend in Majors.”

The choice of words there are quite revealing.  Woods would continue to “contend” in Majors but, much as he admires him, there was no deferential suggestion about an increase in his haul of 14.  That would be to threaten what he clearly views as his own domain. Says McIlroy: “I’d love to have some meaningful battles with Tiger coming down the stretch at big tournaments including the Majors, of course.  That’s the stuff we really want to do.”

Yet they were very different people, were they not?  “Oh yeah,” he replies.  “For sure.  I can’t bring the intensity he brings to every week. He can sort of turn it on, which is impressive. It’s something that I struggle to do sometimes.  I would find it very difficult to do it every week. That’s why I’ve cut down on my schedule.”

There is no doubt but that McIlroy has taken a lead from Woods in this regard.  And, by his own admission, it led to a scheduling error early this year when he clearly didn’t make sufficient competitive appearances while acclimatising to a change to Nike equipment.  

But he still maintains that, even at his tender years, too much competitive golf may not be good for you.  “That’s where Tiger is very smart, bringing the same level of intensity to 20 tournaments a year,” he says.  “It’s what he does. And I’d rather be 100 per cent ready 20 times a year, than say fully prepared for 20 and still playing an extra 10.  It doesn’t make sense when you don’t have the right mind-set.”  

Against that background, it seems odd to be talking about McIlroy being on the way back.  It is more like he’s going through a period of adjustment, which has happened to include an equipment change and a split from his management group.  

One suspects that, given a little time, young Rory is going to be just fine.

- Dermot Gilleece

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