McIlroy gets some perspective

That Rory McIlroy is suffering from a bad back is no surprise given the burden of expectation the young Ulsterman has been carrying around for as long as anyone can remember.

The problem is nothing new and on his return from Dubai, he confessed that his tendency to overdo things is the biggest danger to his career.

“It’s been something that’s been at me the last couple of years,” he confessed in Dublin on Monday, “which is why I started working with my physio Cornell (Driesson) who worked with the South African rugby team and the South African hockey team and he does a couple of guys on tour. 

“Everyone talks about this move that I do with my swing, where the hips go backwards and then go forwards and that puts a little strain on the lower back. I do all the exercises I can to make everything stronger around the joints.

“If I play two weeks in a row it is fine, three weeks it starts to niggle and four weeks it starts to hurt and you feel it. It is a matter of rest and managing my schedule so that I am not going to play too many weeks in a row.”

McIlroy’s priority is to make sure he comes out with all guns blazing when he makes his 2010 debut as a fully paid up member of the PGA Tour in the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson in two weeks' time.

Barring withdrawals or a late appearance by Tiger Woods, he will face Kevin Na in the first round of a tournament where he will be expected to contend for what would be just his second victory as a professional.

It seems incredible that McIlroy is now ranked a career best seventh in the world while three time major winner Padraig Harrington has slipped behind his young rival for the first time and is now 10th. 

Yet consider this.

McIlroy has had 13 top-10 finishes since he lifted his maiden title in Dubai 12 months ago and finished inside the top seven 10 times in his last 12 starts. He's so good, we think he's failing because he hasn’t won again.

No-one has been more guilty of this than McIlroy himself and while he’s annoyed he could finish “only” third and sixth in Abu Dhabi and Dubai over the last few weeks, he only has to look at Europe’s most successful active player to catch a glimpse of the big picture.

The 20-year old Holywood sensation points to triple major winning Dubliner Harrington as the kind of role model he needs as he attempts to cast off the bridesmaid’s tag and don the superman cloak. 

Mental strength is the key and McIlroy is now toying with the idea of finding is own version of Bob Rotella. 

“You have to look at Padraig in 2001,” McIlroy said. “He had seven or eight second place finishes and now he is a three-time major winner.

“He bided his time and learned how to finish it off and now he is probably one of the best finishers on tour at a golf tournament there is.”

Apart from his withdrawal through illness from December’s Nedbank Challenge, McIlroy has finished outside the top seven just once since he came joint third in the US PGA Championship at Hazeltine last August.

But he knows that he may have to take practical steps to push on now and start winning regularly and he sees the mental game as an area where there might be room for improvement.

Asked if he’d considered taking on a mental coach, McIlroy said: “I think I probably will (go down that road) in the next couple of weeks. I’ve talked to Chubby about it …. The thing about a psychologist is you know what they’re going to say, it is the reinforcement. It’s the repetition.

“They tell you so many times it is embedded into your brain and you don’t have to think about it. I’ve read all of Rotellea’s books, and it does help. I’m not saying I will go to Bob, but I will look into it anyway.”

As for his form, McIlroy knows that it bodes well as he prepares to kick off a run of eight consecutive events as a PGA Tour in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson in a forthnight’s time.

“If I can keep playing like that and keep giving myself chances as always sooner or later I will win,” McIlroy said after contending in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in his first two starts of the year. “Hopefully it will come along sooner rather than later. I have been thinking about it a lot and winning is a habit. If you win, and win again quite soon after, you get into a feeling of knowing how to finish it off.

“If I can get another win early in the season it will give me the confidence to know when I’m in contention again I can finish it. I want to win multiple times this year and I will be disappointed if I don’t. I’ve felt like I have put myself into great positions last year to win more than once and didn’t quite do it. 

“I feel as if I should be able to learn from that this year and draw on my experience and I suppose learn from my mistakes. I thought my short game was really good last week, got a lot up and downs…’s one of the reasons I’ve become so consistent over the last six months, because when I do miss a green my scrambling has become so good. 

“That’s a huge positive for me, to know the greens I do miss I am going to get up and down 70-80 per cent of the time. I’m very confident I feel as if my game is better than it has ever been. I’m able to shape the ball either way, my short game is very good and if I can put four rounds together, that will be good enough.”

As for the prospect on taking on the PGA Tour, McIlroy said: “I’m really looking forward to getting back over to America, had a bit of success last year in Arizona and I enjoy the golf course and the format. 

“It will be nice going into it this year being one of the top seeds and everyone trying to beat you.”

McIlroy has made no secret of the fact that he loves the American way of life, the big crowds, the warm weather....

“I love the atmosphere in the Sates. Not taking anything from the European Tour, there is always a great buzz,” he said. “You’re going to different towns every week and they all come out for it, gives a great atmosphere and makes it all that much better.

“I just like it and it is a very comfortable and easy lifestyle. You don’t have to fly five six or seven hours, you hop on a flight and in a couple fo hours you’re there. Just very convenient.”

McIlroy will be eagerly chased by sponsors in the US but he shot down rumours that he has been offered a multi-million dollar contract to sign for Nike and insisted that he has no plans to leave Titleist before his contract expires in 2012.

He said: “I just signed a new deal with Jumeirah last week in Dubai which will continue until 2012 and my Titleist deal is not up until 2012, so you know I am pretty much tied up until then. There might be a few more opportunities, but most of my sponsor stuff...what we’ve tried to do is make them all end in 2012, see where we are and go on from there. 

“I’m very comfortable with my clubs at the minute. I’ve played Titleist all my life and it is nice to not to have to change, only thing I’ve had to change is the grooves. I’m very happy with everything else.”

Finding that winning groove is what drives McIlroy now and if his back holds up, he sees no reason why he can’t go even higher in the world rankings.

But isn’t he surprised that he is world No 7 already with just one win to his name?

“I suppose so, yes, but then, looking at the last few events, I don’t think I have finished outside seventh in a tournament. If you look at it thst way, my average finish has probably been four or five for five or six months.

“There is not as much emphasis in the world rankings on wins as accumulating world points, so guys like I suppose like myself with only one win and someone like Ollie Wilson who hasn’t won yet but is in the 30s in the world, he is a very consistent performer and in golf that is very good. It is not very good in other sports but in golf you done pretty well out of it.”

If McIlroy can find a way of turning a handful of those top 10s into wins, he will be sitting on top of the world in more ways than one.