McIlroy can overcome his putting woes - Harrington

Padraig Harrington could talk forever on its nuances and a two-hour chat over tea and scones serves only to confirm one thing - when it comes to golf, the Almighty has a wicked sense of humour.

No matter how talented you are or how much time you spend trying to perfect a game that’s as convoluted as a 20,000 piece, double sided jigsaw, God will feed a few vital pieces of the puzzle to the dog when you aren't looking.

“This is great thing about golf,” Harrington says during a discussion on Rory McIlroy’s undoubted ability to take the pressure and perform on the PGA Tour this year. “Look at all the players, everybody is given something but they have a weakness somewhere else. You will not find a player that’s complete. They have all got real strengths and an area of weakness.”

How good would Harrington be if he could drive the ball as well as McIlroy? How many tournaments wins would McIlroy have on his CV by now if he had Harrington’s mesmeric ability to hole putts under the kosh?

Harrington is too diplomatic to say that McIlroy is an average putter at the highest level. But the points out that as the most exciting European player for a generation, the 20 year old from Co Down is rightfully considered to be good enough to challenge Tiger Woods for the world No 1 ranking any day now.

“What’s great about Rory is that knows where he is weakest and he is working on it,” Harrington says.

It's McIlroy’s strengths that impress Harrington - his fearlessness with the driver and his ability to find another gear when the pressure is full on.

Dismissing fears for the Ulster starlet as he takes on the big guns on the PGA Tour this year, Harrington said: “You’ve got to remember that you are looking at a guy who is No 9 in the world [at the time of writing he is 10th].

“You could genuinely theorise that he is going to become world No 1 while Tiger is still here. He could be a contender.”

With no word on when Woods will come back to play, Harrington has still set his sights sky high by targeting victory in all four majors before the turns 39 in August.

But golf needs young guns to fill the void that will eventually be left by Woods and while Harrington’s career is entering its final decade, McIlroy has the potential to reign over world golf for many years to come.

“Nobody was thinking when I turned pro at 24 that I was going to be world No 1. But it is valid hype for Rory at the moment,” Harrington insists. “Sure it brings pressure with it, but he loves that.

“The pressure has damaged many people’s careers. You can look at the guys who are one-time major winners and they spend the rest of their life trying to justify it.

“There are guys that every golf shot their hit forever after that, they are thinking, is that the shot of an Open champion? Is that the shot of a major champion?

“But I think Rory is someone who is young and embraces the idea. At the end of the day, he has always been the big fish and the hype has always been there.

“It would be alien to him if they weren’t hyping him up and he wasn’t going to be the next big star.

“He was the next big star in Europe last year. He is now the next big star in the States. He was the next big amateur guy in Ireland. Then in Europe, then the world. Then in Europe on the Tour and then the States.

“So it is a natural progression that he has always become the next big star. It is nothing unusual for him. It is just a different stage. It is exactly the same.”

McIlroy has decided to join the PGA Tour because he wants to test himself against the best and contend for majors.

He’s already said he wants to close the gap on world No 2 Phil Mickelson this year before taking down Woods in 2011.

Harrington is a massive fan of the hottest young player ever to emerge from Ireland and he loves the fact that the Irish starlet, like Harrington himself, loves being the man they want to beat.

“He wants to be that,” Harrington says. “He has certainly got the ability and I think he is loving it. Maybe he should be sponsored by McDonald’s. He’s lovin’ it. And I’m lovin’ it too.

“His biggest asset is his attitude. He really does love playing golf. He enjoys it. He plays with such enthusiasm - and this is nothing to do with the fact that he is 20 - but he plays like a kid.

“It looks like he is trying to rip his drive down the tightest line on every single hole. You can’t imagine him taking out a three wood. I’d say poor JP (Fitzgerald, his caddie) would nearly have to break that driver to stop him hitting it.

“But he hits it so well. He stripes it down the short line on every hole. He is always going the aggressive line and taking it down the edge of the doglegs.

“He sees nothing else but those lines and I don’t think he ever will. I think he’s a great driver of the ball, that’s his asset.”

Comparisons between McIlroy and Sergio Garcia are odious if only for the Spaniard’s puny mental attitude when things don’t go his way.

Harrington has a survival instinct on the green, an ability to will the ball into the hole, that is a product of his upbringing on the severe slopes of Stackstown Golf Club in the foothills of the Dublin mountains.

“If you are going to be putting from 20 feet on every hole, you are going to be a bad putter. You are going to be like Monty. You are going to develop that. If you want to be a good putter, miss a lot of greens and you will be a great putter. Seve is the perfect example. You do it out of necessity.

“You don’t have to become a great putter overnight. Everybody who is bad putter wants to find a swing key that turns them from having 34 putts to having 28 putts. What happened to 33.9 putts and so on? The gradual improvement.

“Rory is young enough that if he sticks at it, it will happen. Bad putters are always looking for the instant cure. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. I don’t want to give all those bad putters a good tip there.”

Harrington agrees that he has a “talent” on the greens, an instinct that helps him put the ball away, like a top soccer striker.

“There’s feel in it but it is a sheer persistency of want. I played for years hitting seven, eight or nine greens a round and a lot of player should get tired of putting from four feet, six feet and eight feet. I am quite happy to go on for a whole round knocking in their putts consistently and to do it for a week. It is stressful.

“Look at me over a two footer. I will take loads of time lining up. I have seen loads of bad putters slap it in there but I can’t do that because I am afraid of going to miss the thing. People think I am standing over six footers thinking I am going to hole it. No. I am thinking I am going to miss. They are stressful.

“Your golf course determines a huge amount. It didn’t matter who the golfer was, you couldn’t keep the ball on the fairways in Stackstown in the summer. The fairways ran off and you couldn’t hit more than six or seven greens.

“The greens were difficult to chip on so you had to have a really good chipping game, and no putt in Stackstown was in any way easy. So it was all about missing in the right place and getting up and down from the right place.

“Bad putters are guys who hit the ball well. It is a fact. If you hit the ball to 20 feet, it doesn’t matter how good a putter you are, you are going to two putt nearly every green and you are going to walk off thinking you are rubbish. A good putter is somebody who hits the golf ball inside eight feet.

“The stat that counts most is how many times in the course of a round are you hitting your first putt from inside eight or 10 feet. On a given day you will hole 90 percent of those putts, sometimes more.

“If you hit it to 20 feet 18 times, you are likely to shoot 2 under par. If you hit inside ten feet, nines time for par and nine times for birdie, you will probably shoot five or six under par.”

And with that he was off - to work on his driving.