"Tiger needs his A Game to come up against Rory" - Harrington

Rory McIlroy found his A game at Kiawah Island. Picture Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.ieJust 420 days after being ridiculed at Congressional for suggesting that Rory McIlroy had the time and the talent to beat Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major wins, Padraig Harrington was at it again on Sunday.

Oh Paddy, Paddy, Paddy. Perhaps you were right all along.

Putting aside his disappointment at finishing 19th and leaving himself in need of a Ryder Cup wildcard he almost certainly won’t get this time, the Dubliner reflected on McIlroy’s latest lap of honour and almost said, I told you so.

“You know, I said two years ago, when he lost at the Masters, that he could challenge Jack’s record,” Harrington said. “And now he’s won one each of the last two years…. He’s lapped the field twice now.  That’s two tournaments he’s lapped the field.

“He nearly did it in another one [the 2010 Masters].  The only person that’s ever done that in majors in my time has been Tiger.  He’s done it twice now.  I don’t know how many times Tiger did it.  That’s quite impressive, isn’t it.”

Harrington sometimes speaks in an of the cuff way that can produced some surprising results. This time, everything he said made perfect sense in the circumstance. Or almost everything.

“I still think Tiger’s going to catch Jack,” the Dubliner said.  “So I wasn’t putting Tiger out of the equation, either.  I just think Rory’s won majors at a young age which is the key if you’re going to win a substantial amount of them.  I think, you know, he’s proving that he doesn’t need to get better.  

“He just needs to stay the same, which is a nice place to be.  You know, when he plays well, he can beat the field, hands down, as he’s done here, as he did in Congressional.  So he’s in a nice place going forward, and I do think that there will be a little less weight on his shoulders after his second major win than there was after the first.

“At this stage, people could be saying I was right when I was saying he could challenge Jack.”

More interesting were Harrington’s comments on Woods. When McIlroy is on song, Tiger is going to have to turn up with his A game to win more majors.

“Rory’s proving that when he plays well, he plays like Tiger played well,” Harrington said. “Tiger turned up for a few years, if he brought his A Game, the rest of us struggled to compete. If he didn’t have his A Game, and we did a wrong thing, we couldn’t compete with that.  

Padraig Harirngton was close to his best again this week yet his putting continues to let him down. Picture by Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.ie“Rory is showing that with his A Game, everybody else is going to struggle to compete with him, and Tiger needs his A Game to come up against Rory. He’s not going to beat him unless he has a big weekend.  

“You see Tiger was leading going into the weekend; he still needed to shoot seven-under par or more, whatever Rory is [11 under in fact]. That’s a big ask in a major.

“Tiger would have had to play very well to do that.  And you know, clearly, he didn’t play as well as he would have liked to. If Rory is playing as well as he is, Tiger’s not going to pick a major off unless he’s got his A Game out there.”

He still believes that Woods will win 19 majors but now believes that McIlroy is going to be a serious obstacle if young Ulsterman turns up in the mood.

At this rate, McIlroy could be the one to threaten Nicklaus’ record. As Harrington said last year at the US Open, the Holywood star has time on his side.

“To get to Tiger’s 14 or Jack’s 18, you really do have to start doing it when you’re in your early 20s,” Harrington said, arguing that winning a major a year is beyond even the greatest players of all time.

“You know, it’s prolific winning to win one a year, so he has another 20 years ahead of him, maybe 25 years of golf,” Harrington added.

Having won three majors in 13 months, Harrington knows what it’s like to compete under a heavy burden of expectation.

Who better to explain what McIlroy has been going through since he burst on the scene in 2007 and won his first major by an imperious eight stroke margin in last year’s US Open.

The Dubliner, like most people in Irish golf, has always known that McIlroy is destined for greatness.

It’s a huge millstone to hang around anyone’s neck but Harrington now believes that McIlroy will soar from here.

Winning the first major was an impressive achievement but to become the sixth youngest in history to win two majors will release the pressure valve and lead to even more spectacular golf from the 23-year old from Holywood.

“If he didn’t win the majors, you know, it would have been an underachievement or a letdown or whatever,” Harrington said.  “So the pressure was always on him in that sense.  He’s only doing what he was destined to do and delivering on that.

“You know, as he saw last year from winning the U.S. Open, he has not had an easy ride of it since then.  It brings a lot of pressure with it.  I think winning his second major is going to make things a lot easier for him. I think he’ll be a better player for winning this time around.

“Going forward, looks like it’s going to be plenty of majors ahead of him.  I think he can handle that expectation now.

“There’s been up and downs since his last major win because of the pressure and the expectations and the hype.  Now he’s delivered again, it’s going to be a lot easier for him going forward.  And he’ll get better.”

As for his own game, Harrington was philosophical.

He said: “Didn’t quite happen… Game is in good shape.  It really is.  So I can’t complain about that.  You know, tidy up here and there. And I saw some nice sparks.  I hit some nice chip shots towards the end of the week which I wasn’t doing at the start of the week.  I see a lot of good things in my game.  Just try and stay patient.  You know, it’s as good as it’s ever been.”