European Ryder Cup skipper Paul McGinley had more reason than most to pop champagne corks after Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry completed a memorable Irish 1-2 in the BMW PGA at Wentworth on Sunday.
But in analysing the performances of the Burma Road protagonists and their great strengths, the skipper also showed a deep understanding of what makes them tick, which only goes to show that he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with for Tom Watson at Gleneagles.
Always a huge fan of both men, McGinley confessed that when it comes to McIlroy, he’s seen a major change in the young Holywood star over the last six months.
Speaking at the Irish Open a few years ago, he said that McIlroy might be better off accepting that he was always going to be a streaky player. Now, given the consistency the 25-year old former world No 1 has shown since the end of the FedEx Cup series last year — two wins, three runner-up finishes and another eight Top-10s from his last 16 starts — he sees something of Tiger Woods in someone he clearly hopes will be his top gun come September.
“I think, if you have been following Rory’s form early this year where he has played nine events before Wentworth and eight of those were top 10s, it was an incredible top level of performance without winning,” McGinley told RTE’s Greg Allen. on Drivetime. “It was a matter of time before he won. Certainly for me it was no surprise when he came through yesterday.”
Asked if we simply had to accept that McIlroy will always have a roller-coaster style career, the man charged with retaining the Ryder Cup for Europe was happy to admit that he’s changed his opinion on the new world No 6 over the past six months.
“If you had asked me that question last year would probably have said yes. But having watched him the last six months in particular and how he has been able to churn out a top 10 finish from relatively poor first two rounds, like he did in the TPC — I think he birdied two of the last three holes to make the cut on the mark and then careered through the field to finish in the top 10 — we are seeing a different Rory now.
“We are seeing a more mature Rory. We are seeing a Rory who is able to dig when things aren’t going well and still churn out a Top-10 finish. He calls them backing into Top-10s. I think they are wonderful performances, terrific performances when you don’t seem to be on your game and you make some mistakes and finish in the Top-10.
“And then when you do hit top form like last week, you go on to win. I think we are seeing a more mature Rory and certainly one for the better. And maybe a little into the Tigeresque way of consistency week after week after week, because he has done it this year.”
McGinley is loathe to get into McIlroy’s personal life (if they discussed the ending of McIlroy’s relationship with Caroline Wozniacki, he’s certainly not saying) but he has no doubt that this is a player who is going to be crucial to his plans for the Ryder Cup.
“In terms of his personal stuff, maybe it was a weight off his shoulders. I don’t know. We will never know. Only Rory can answer that question. It certainly gave him a sense of clarity and he went on and played well. He was either going to miss the cut or he was going to win and fortunately for everybody, he won.”
Asked by Greg if McIlroy was going to be a key figure and a leader in the team room in September, he said: “There is no doubt about that. I had a really good chat with him for about half an hour on Saturday morning before he went out and he was really excited about the Ryder Cup and the summer coming up.
“I couldn’t have more engagement from Rory as Ryder Cup captain. He is really up for it. He wanted to know a lot of the ideas and the lines I am thinking on and I didn’t want to give him too much information. I want him to stay focussed on his own career and to try and win majors. He is really engaged and I couldn’t ask more for him at this stage. I am sure come September he will be even more engaged and ready to fulfil a big role. He will obviously play in the team.”
Lowry said a few years ago that GAA-lover McGinley would be the kind of Ryder Cup ‘bainisteoir’ that would so inspire his players that they would be prepared to “burst through a wall” to do battle for him.
The admiration is clearly mutual but McGinley knows better than to heap too much pressure on Lowry, who still needs a win or two just to threaten to make the team but is clearly a Ryder Cup player in waiting.
“It’s further vindication of the high levels Irish golf has attained in the world,” he said of Sunday’s Irish battle for the PGA title. “Shane has had a really poor run of form early season and did decently last week in Spain and all of a sudden ignited last week (in Wentworth).
"He seems to be a man for the big occasion and I think it will be very good in terms of his career and it puts him back on the career path and gives him exemptions into the big events, sees him into the Final Series at the end of the year and on the periphery maybe of Ryder Cup if he has a very strong summer. It was a very successful day for Irish golf in particular.”
When asked about Lowry’s tendency to flit in and out of form for lengthy periods, he quickly jumped to the defence of a homespun hero who has the power to move masses.
“He doesn’t disappoint me at all. I think he is a tremendous talent and not alone is he a tremendous talent, he has got a great attitude too. He loves his life and it’s a great thing about him. And although some people might criticise that, I think it is a wonderful thing that he is so connected with Ireland and connected with the local community back in Offaly still.
“I know lives in Dublin now and enjoys his life there too. And I think that’s very important for Shane, because he is that kind of personality, he needs that kind of relief. Obviously he has got a big heart and he knows how to win. I think we have a lot to look forward to in Shane’s career over the next number of years.”