Rory McIlroy has hit back at the critics who reckon his short game and putting is holding him back in his bid to become a multiple winner.
The Holywood hotshot (21) admits that the biggest frustration of his short professional career is “only winning twice in three and a half years.”
But in contrast to multiple major champion Padraig Harrington, a true believer in the short game ethic, he insists that there is an over emphasis on a player’s ability to perform on and around the greens.
“I don’t even begin to count fairways and guys who hit greens are generally not winners,” Harrington said. “You have got to go after pins and if you go after pins, you are going to miss greens.”
But McIlroy begs to differ.
Believing he will be a tough opponent to “get rid of” when he faces the in-form American Jonathan Byrd in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play at Dove Mountain’s Ritz Carlton Golf Club outside Tucson today, McIlroy said: “People only pick up on the negative parts of your game. But I know I am good from six feet and I know I am good from 25 feet.
“I don’t hole my fair share of putts from 10 to 20 feet but I hole putts in other areas to make up for that. It’s like any good ball striker - a Darren Clarke, an Angel Cabrera. Those guys are renowned for not being great putters but the long game is the biggest part of the game.
“I don’t care what anyone says about the short game being the most important. It’s not. The long game puts you in position to have putts to win tournaments. Guys say you have to have short game to win tournaments and it is not the case. Not at all.”
If he beats Byrd, McIlroy will need to fire - and putt - on all cylinders to emerge from the Gary Player bracket and potential showdowns with players such as Adam Scott, Jim Furyk, Miguel Angel Jimenez or world No 2 Martin Kaymer.
But his draw is a walk in a park compared to the “Group of Death” where Harrington finds himself immersed in the top half of the Sam Snead bracket.
Quite apart from his first round clash with two-time Accenture Match Play champion Geoff Ogilvy today, Harrington knows that he could face Tiger Woods or Thomas Bjorn in round two followed by a potential clash with Dustin Johnson, Mark Wilson, Bubba Watson or Bill Haas before a possible quarter-final encounter with the likes of Paul Casey, the runner up for the last two years.
“Its unbelievable, isn’t it,” Harrington said of his draw. “You’ve got good players and then other players in great form. It’s obviously tough.”
Looking on the humourous side of his predicament, Harrington said: “If you were sitting down at a poker table with the eight people in my mini group, and you were looking for the sucker, I don’t see one. Normally, if you don’t see the sucker at the poker table, you’re it.”
Harrington’s early season form has been erratic in the extreme but he’s hoping that his short game will be extra sharp against Ogilvy, allowing him to attack pins aggressively and regain some of the matchplay mojo he has lost since he became a card and pencil touring pro.
But he also believes that his inconsistency this year makes he a dangerous prospect in the Group of Death.
“There is no doubt that nobody is going to be happy to see me either on the form I have shown this year,” he said. “It has been erratic, either very good or very poor so nobody likes that in matchplay.”
As for Graeme McDowell, the world No 4 just hopes he isn’t packing his bags at lunchtime on day one for the second year in a row when he faces American Heath Slocum.
Yet despite the criticism levelled at McIlroy’s short game, McDowell believes implicitly in his Ryder Cup partner’s credentials as a major winner in waiting.
“Rory’s golf brain is young, but he makes up for it with a lot of talent and skill,” McDowell said. “And once the golf brain matures, and he keeps coming to golf courses like this, and Augusta, and Open golf courses, it’s only a matter of time until he gets his head around and it understands how to control his talent. And it’s going to be pretty scary what the guy can achieve.”