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G-Mac on Rory's Nike headache: "The biggest hurdle he has right now is his mind"

Rory McIlroy, sporting the new Nike VS_Covert driver that gave him so much trouble in Abu Dhabi, now features on a giant Nike mural in San Diego. Picture via @nikegolfGraeme McDowell insists that it’s “only a matter of time” before Rory McIlroy overcomes internal and external pressures and conquers his new equipment.

As he prepares to return to action in next week’s Northern Trust Open and regain his place in the world’s top 10 this year, McDowell appeared on the Golf Channel’s revamped Morning Drive programme and gave his views on his stablemate’s teething problems with his Nike clubs and that embarrassing missed cut in Abu Dhabi last month.

“There has been a lot of criticism thrown Rory’s way,” McDowell told presenter Gary Williams. “Bad move, etcetera, etcetera. I believe there are a lot of great golf companies in the world right now making great golf equipment. When you are as talented as Rory, I don’t care what your driver says, or your irons say or your golf ball says, when you are as good as he is, it is a transition that should be fairly straightforward for him to make.

“The biggest hurdle he has right now is his mind. It’s the pressure that is put on him by the world’s media, by people and most importantly the pressure from inside him. He has got to get across the hurdle of playing well a few times with the new equipment in the bag.”

In common with McIlroy’s short game coach Dave Stockton, his swing coach Michael Bannon and his father Gerry, McDowell agrees that McIlroy is too talented to fail. Even Sandy Lyle weighed in on the matter in a Reuters story on Monday, expressing his “hope” that “McIlroy’s decision to switch golf clubs does not result in the same sort of ‘kamikaze dive’ in form that David Duval suffered when he made a similar move.”

McDowell said: “He is talented kid. I have never seen a guy make the game look so easy. It doesn’t matter what it says on the back of his iron, he will be okay. It is just a matter of time before he settles down and comes to terms with what is in his head with regard to the pressures he has created for himself.”

Ranked 19th in the world, McDowell hasn’t played since he won Tiger Woods’ World Challenge in December for his first victory since he changed to Srixon club following a stellar 2010 campaign that brought him multiple wins, including the US Open and the glory of winning the Ryder Cup for Europe at Celtic Manor.

“Since January I’ve definitely had the itch to play,” said McDowell, who will behind his season by playing Los Angeles, the Accenture Match Play, the Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami.

“I’ve had to resist the temptation to turn on the TV and check what the boys are up to. I am ready to go. My game is feeling good and I am feeling fresh in body and fresh in mind and ready to hit the road on Sunday.”

Liek the Nike mural, McIlroy’s equipment change is going to take time. Via @nikegolfWith the PGA Tour switching to a wraparound season this year, McDowell admitted that he’s already thinking about what events he’ll play in 2014 and explained the difficulty of supporting both the European and the US PGA Tour.

“I am ready looking at my January-February schedule for 2014,” he said. “I guess playing on both the PGA and European Tours I am in a nice scenario in that I get to cherry pick the best events in the world. It is a lot of fun to be a global player. Being in the top 20 in the world gives me the options to play everywhere.

“My goal is world ranking based in the next couple of years and I really want to get myself back into the top 10 and top 5 in the world gain. I will play 16 or 17 on the PGA Tour this year and another 13 or 14 on the European Tour. With the overlaps with the WGCs that equates to 26-27 events.

“When you look at the OWGR divisors I am on the up side of events played by the top players in the world. It is difficult to player fewer events than that when you play both tours. So hence, after the break I have just had, I have got to get myself up for a big year.”

The exodus of European players to the PGA Tour speaks volumes about the difficulties facing the European Tour and the struggles that Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley will have in convincing George O’Grady and his board that he should have three or four picks for Gleneagles in 2014.

Getting the big names to support the traditionally strong events in Britain, Ireland and continental Europe is a major headache in a shrinking European economy. When there is so much money on offer in the US and Europe’s co-sanction tournaments in Asia, particularly China and the Middle East, getting the Ryder Cup stars to play in Europe is becoming mission impossible.

Graeme McDowell gives his views on Morning Drive.“The European Tour has never been as strong a product as it is right now with the players it has - Rory No 1 in the world and winning majors. Guys like Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer Lee Westwood - all No 1 in the world the last few years. Quality, quality players. The quality of our product has never been stronger, but yes, Europe is in a deep financial depression and great sponsors are hard to find.

“Countries like Germany that had three or four events historically, the last five years with only one event. Spain losing a lot of its top events. One event in Ireland, one in Scotland (sic), one in England, one in Wales…

“As strong as Britain and Ireland is as a golf mecca, we are struggling to keep up with the PGA Tour financially. It is not all about money, of course. Playing in the best fields and playing for world ranking points are still the most important things for the top players. But all of a sudden the European Tour spends so much time in Asia, the Middle East, all over the world. The European Tour guy has to be a guy with a lot of air miles, he has to jump on a plane and commit himself to a global schedule and that’s tough on a family environment and hence a lot of guys find themselves here on the PGA Tour.”

McDowell tried hard to sound positive about the European Tour but admitted that he’d continue to cherry pick the best events.

“I certainly feel a great loyalty to the European Tour and try to support their best events as best I can,” he said. “We are certainly as a tour trying to drive interest levels especially in continental Europe. We are acutely aware that we need to attract great sponsors back to our tour so we can give these countries with great golfing histories, like Spain, like Germany, like Britain and Ireland, we really want to bring quality fields, quality events and great sponsors to these great countries so we can start putting the European Tour back on the map.”

Europe’s problem is that there is no money for sponsors or great events and G-Mac all but admitted that the US had won the war a long time ago.

As for his forthcoming wedding to fiancée Kristin Stape in September, McDowell said: “Certainly a new chapter in  my life  and one I am very proud of and very excited about. I feel like it has  brought a new level of comfort to my life with regards stability off the golf course.

“She is a huge supporter of what I do. Look at Jack, look at Arnie, look at these great players in the world, typically there has been a great woman behind those players and I think I have got myself one.”