Rory McIlroy congratulates Lee Westwood after sinking his putt on the 18th to clinch the 2009 Dubai World Championship and the Race to Dubai title. Credit: golffile.iePadraig Harrington believes Rory McIlroy must learn to control “The Fear Factor” if he is to join Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan as a major great.

The Dubliner is convinced that 99.999 percent of golfers live in dread of the overwhelming feeling that are going to make a massive mistake under pressure.

Only a special 0.001 percent can control their emotions it as they rack up the major wins.

And while he’s confident McIlroy has the potential to become one of the greats, Harrington reckons Lee Westwood is nearer to becoming one of the grandmasters than the young Ulsterman because he’s suffered more disappointments.

Explaining his theory on the mental game, Harrington said: “Probably only one per cent are fearless, usually kids coming into the game. They have no scars, no mental damage.  

“Usually those players are not, I won’t use the word bright, because it’s not to do with their intelligence, but usually that sort of person doesn’t think anything through. They just go about their business.

“Unfortunately for that one per cent of golfers, when the can of worms is opened, they will always struggle to get the lid back on it, because they played with freedom, naïvety, the game was easy, and all of a sudden, there’s complications.  All of a sudden there’s fear.”  

For Harrington, the real superstars are the 0.001 percent who have figured out how to control their fear through bitter experience.

He said: “You’ve got to think Nicklaus, you’ve got to think Hogan got there.  Very few people have got to this point that they understood what was happening to them.”

At 22, Harrington reckons McIlroy is simply too young and inexperienced to achieve golfing perfection just yet.

But he points to Westwood as the kind of player who is now ready to use all his heartbreak to his advantage and become a deadly finisher in majors.

Harrington said: “Rory’s too young. But he’s had a few hard lessons that will help him get there.

“But I could tell you who is not far away from it - Lee Westwood.  He’s had the hard lessons.  

“Lee is a prolific winner and could be a prolific winner of Majors.  Of all the players out here who have a good understanding of their game, he’s right in there.  

“He is in the one per cent of fearless golfers who opened the can of worms and it took him a long time to try and get that lid back on.  And there was a lot of pain involved in that.

“He tried to change his golf swing and it was a struggle for a long, long time and he has figured a way to control that.  That’s the biggest achievement.

“He was a prolific winner before, he is now, majors are a natural follow on and if he does start winning them they will get easier and easier.

“Of all the players to look at, I would pick him as the guy that’s closest to that nirvana.”