Rory McIlroy takes on a press conference the way he takes on a golf course. Like it or not, he sees the shot, wastes little time over it, and gives it a lash.
Take the debate over who’s the best golfer in the world. As world No 1, McIlroy is statistically the top dog. He might have missed the cut in The Players Championship but given his form over the past nine months he has every right to consider himself the best. And he said so too.
“Yeah, I think that you have to believe that you’re better than anyone else, or at least believe it. On my day, I believe I can beat anyone in the world. It’s just finding that capability of when you’re not playing your best to still come out on top. That’s the thing that I’m trying to learn how to do, because I’ve proved in the past that when I am on my game, I’m pretty hard to beat. So you have to believe that you’re the best, and I certainly do believe that. And it’s just a matter of going out there and showing everyone else what I believe.”
So when did he start thinking that he was the best player in the world?
“Maybe Congressional last year, after that, I sort of started thinking of myself as definitely one of the elite players. I think I moved up to No. 3 in the world at that point. From then, I’ve played pretty consistently, and I’ve won a couple of times. Yeah, but you know, I’ve always believed on my day that I can beat anyone else. It’s hard to sort of walk around saying, you know, I’m the best or whatever, but you know, you just have to believe in it and be quietly confident.”
When asked the same question, world No 2 Luke Donald and No 3 Lee Westwood were more modest in their replies. Bereft of the world No 1 ranking, they weren’t about to put their necks on the line.
“Doesn’t Rory have the edge? He’s ranked world No1 so he must have the edge,” Donald said when it was suggested that might be superior to McIlroy.
While McIlroy has no problem thinking he’s better than the opposition, Donald ran from the question.
“I don’t like to think of it in those terms. I think my focus is on trying to improve and become a better golfer,” the Englishman said. “Who is the best? That’s a very hard thing to discuss. Certainly I’ve been one of the more consistent players over the last couple of years. I’ve won a few events and I’m very proud of what I’ve done.”
Westwood hadn’t the heart to claim he was the true No 1 either.
“Everyone has got their strengths and weaknesses, haven’t they?” he said “That’s the great thing about golf – not everyone does everything the same. Luke is probably the best in the world from 80 yards. And I sort of like the effortless power of Rory.”
Martin Kaymer confessed that he found being No 1 a burden. He longs to make golf a comfortable adjunct to a “normal life”, not the be all and end all of his existence.
McIlroy wants to do normal too, but in reality he loves the limelight.
“I think that’s something that Martin Kaymer said when he got to No. 1,” McIlroy said of the hullabaloo surrounding the game’s top player. “t’s something that he struggled with a little bit and it’s just something that comes with part of the territory I suppose.”
The 23-year old from Co Down has always had an easy confidence in his ability. As an amateur, he was better than players twice his age and showed no fear. Some called it arrogance but McIlroy, who once wrote LOSER on his ball and said ‘I’m playing a loser today’ when showing it to his opposition on the first tee, has never been a shrinking violet
He believed he could compete with the best before he had even left the amateur ranks.
Seven months before finishing as top amateur in the Open at Carnoustie, he said: “I am not going to come out and say Padraig [Harrington] is no better a player than I am, because it is obviously not true. But there is not much difference between a top amateur and an average to good tour pro. It is not that much of a difference.”
Comparing McIlroy to Westwood or Donald is not a fair fight. In less than five years as a professional he has risen to world No 1, won a major and contended seriously to win at least another three.
Winning the BMW PGA at Wentworth would make him just the second Irishman to lift that coveted title and the first since Harry Bradshaw in 1958.
He wants to win the Memorial too, which is his next start before his US Open defence at the Olympic Club. After than it’s the Irish Open in Royal Portrush and then The Open at Royal Lytham and St Anne’s, a course where he’s done well as an amateur.
“I’m looking forward to going to Portrush for The Irish Open. I think it’s going to be a great week. It will be a good atmosphere. The crowds will be fantastic. I think I’ve played the course once since they have put the new tee boxes in.
“But it’s a very, very fair golf course. If you ask anyone who plays Portrush, they will tell you it’s very fair. You get rewarded for good golf. And, yeah, it’s great, for me personally, it’s great because it’s going to be my last event before The Open championship.
“So to play an event on a links course; I’ll be playing links golf for three weeks going into the Open, which is going to be fantastic. That’s something I’m looking forward to.
“Lytham is a golf course which I’ve done well at before. I nearly won a couple of Lytham Trophies. I three-putted the last green to miss out on a playoff one year and Lloyd Saltman won the next or whatever it was. I think it sets up well for me. It’s a real ball-striker’s golf course. You’ve got to hit it great off the tee. Got to shape your ball from left-to-right on most holes. So that’s something I’ll be working on leading up to Lytham.”
Those who believe that McIlroy has no chance of winning a major on a Pete Dye course had better think twice, according to the man himself.
Sure, he’s had trouble at Sawgrass, where he’s missed the cut each of his three appearances. But while he also found Dye’s Whistling Straits a challenge off the tee, he managed to finish third in the US PGA there two years ago.
So why should he fear a windy test at Kiawah Island?
“It’s okay. Whistling Straits was a Pete Dye course, and I was able to do pretty well there. There’s one Pete Dye course that I don’t do so well at; I think everyone knows that.
“Kiawah, I don’t really know much about it either. I know it will be brutally hard and probably a bit breezy, as well. It’s looking like it’s going to be a great summer of golf.”
It’s a summer that tees off for McIlroy today alongside Ernie Els and Martin Laird.
Now that he’s talked the talk, it’s time to walk the walk. Even the B version.