Rory McIlroy’s love match with Caroline Wozniacki has made him even more determined to topple Luke Donald and become world No 1.
That’s the view of pal Graeme McDowell who hopes to have his say as he joins his stablemate and Open champion Darren Clarke in this week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play in Arizona.
Defending champion Donald will be the top seed in Tucson but McDowell reckons he’ll have his work cut out to keep McIlroy at bay and hold on to his No 1 crown.
McDowell said: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Rory as focussed as he is right now. He’s working hard. He’s working out hard. He’s just very single-minded.
“I think he’s got his eye on that No 1 in the world spot and he’s a focussed man and he’s playing great. He’s just full of confidence.”
Since hooking up with tennis ace Wozniacki after his US Open win last summer, McIlroy has won twice and racked up staggering seven top-five finishes in his last 10 starts.
And while his wind game and his putting was poor over the weekend in Dubai on his last start, he’s still one of the hot favourites to go all the way to the final at the Ritz Carlton Golf Club where he became an instant American idol thanks to his run to the quarter-finals on his debut in 2009.
McIlroy, who faces South Africa’s George Coetzee in the first round, reached the quarter-finals on his debut in Tucson in 2009 and McDowell reckons his stablemate has been inspired by Wozniacki to take his game to the next level.
G-Mac declared: “I think Caroline has had a great influence on him over the last eight months or so. Her single-mindedness in the tennis.
“For him to have an inside the ropes view of how hard she works I think has really motivated him to up his game to the next level and work as hard as he’s been working.”
Putting has cost McIlroy dear in the past and last season he was hammered 8 and 7 by Ben Crane in the second round. But McDowell reckons McIlroy is a changed man in that department and will take some stopping in the Arizona desert.
He said: “Let’s be honest, the big difference in Rory McIlroy’s game since the US Open is his putter. He is now becoming a great putter.
“He has always for me been the best driver of a golf ball on the planet and he is now finishing it off with a great putting stroke.
“To me that’s the big difference. He’s winning. He’s getting that confidence from winning and I think he has taken his game to the next level.”
McDowell had his best ever result in Tucson last season when he reached the third round for the first time and comes into the event hoping to boost his Ryder Cup qualifying bid.
He’ll also be looking for revenge against South Korea’s YE Yang having gone out to the former US PGA champion in the third round last season.
As for Clarke, the Dungannon star has lost more than a stone and a half working out with his new fitness trainer Jonny Bloomfield.
And while his form since the Open has been disappointing he’s hoping that his patience will pay off when he makes his first appearance in the Accenture Match Play for five years against American young gun Nick Watney.
Winner of the title in 2000 when he famously beat Tiger Woods 4 and 3 at La Costa, the 43-year old went out in the second round to Charles Howell III on his last appearance in Tucson in 2007.
With a best finish of 20th since lifting the Claret Jug, Clarke is hoping for some matchplay inspiration in the US.
Grinning, he said: “My form hasn’t been great, although I could have said the same about this time last year. That’s golf. I just have to be patient and wait for it to click.”