As Darren Clarke confessed to struggling with some swing changes, the plaudits continue to pour in for Rory McIlroy and Tom Watson.
More than 18 months after Padraig Harrington first suggested that McIlroy could break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships given his age and his talent, former world No 1 Greg Norman agreed and went a step further at the Australian PGA.
Once again the Great White Shark took his chance to have a pop at 14-time major winner Woods, just a few weeks after suggesting that the former No 1 was “intimidated” by McIlroy’s talent.
According to reports from the Australian PGA Championship, where Norman was forced to pull out with suspected food poisoning after opening with two bogeys, the 57-year old believes Woods’ winless streak in the majors is terminal as far as beating Nicklaus’ record goes.
“I don’t think so, no,” Norman said when asked if Woods was capable of winning the five majors he requires to pass Nicklaus. “Every year that passes by that he hasn’t won a major it just gets that much harder to win a major.
“I don’t care how many you have won, it just becomes more and more difficult. He might win one or two more but I don’t think he will win the four or five more that he needs to win to break the record.”
McIlroy won the US Open in 2011 and this year’s US PGA Championship and Norman says the sky is the limit for the talented 23-year-old.
“I think if anybody can break Nicklaus’ record I think he could, because he is young, he is ahead of the game, he is ahead of the curve on a lot of things and he has a very balanced life across the board,” Norman said.
“So I will keep my fingers crossed for him because I would love to see that happen. Somebody will do it one day and it could be Rory.
“I am a big fan of Rory’s, he can be as big as he wants to be.”
Like Harrington, Clarke has known for years how good McIlroy can become.
But the 44-year old’s priority is to get his game back in shape after a forgettable year that has seen him slip to from 30th to 140th in the world since he won the 2011 Open.
“I had to change something, I started about 10 weeks ago and it’s been tough,” Clarke said of swing changes he’s been working on for the past few weeks.
“I had a bit of a break – I had four weeks off there and was working away home at Portrush and it was pretty tough when it was about one degree, pouring down with rain and wind at about 45 miles an hour.
“Last week was good to get out and play in Bangkok albeit the heat was about 45 degrees and 100 percent humidity, which for my athletic frame wasn’t the best,” he joked.
“It’s just a work in progress but it is certainly starting to feel a lot better.
“My swing had got way too steep in the middle of the back swing and I’m trying to lay it off and get a little bit more on plane.
“It’s what I have done before in the past but I have just got into such a bad habit of doing it that it is taking a little bit of work to get it back again.
“It just got to where I wasn’t hitting the shots that I wanted to hit and it was a case of saying, ‘right, I’ve got to do something about it and try and get it back in the shape that I want’.
After finishing tied for 22nd at the Thailand Golf Championship last week, he’s optimistic about his final event of the 2012 season.
“I played nicely last week … but made too many silly mistakes,” he said on the eve of last night’s opening round at the Palmer Coolum Resort. “I still had enough birdies so there is a lot of good in there at the moment and hopefully I can minimise the mistakes this week and keep on hitting some good shots.”
As for the expected appointment of veteran Tom Watson as US Ryder Cup skipper for 2014 later today, Clarke was positive.
“Obviously if Tom does get it he is one of the legends of the game and I am sure he would be a fantastic captain not just to the team but to all aspects of the Ryder Cup,” AP quoted Clarke as saying at the Australian PGA.
Rated as the favourite ahead of Dubliner Paul McGinley for the European captaincy at Gleneagles in two years, Clarke added: “The man is a huge name in the world of golf and rightly so, I think he would make a fantastic captain for America.”