World No 1 Rory McIlroy believes he has the mental freshness, the energy and the personality to become a locker-room leader for Europe in next month’s Ryder Cup.
The two-time major winner has struggled in the past to find the perfect schedule and remain fresh at crucial stages of the season.
But he’s quietly built up a head of steam this year and following his runaway, eight-shot US PGA victory three weeks ago, he feels ready to challenge for the FedEx Cup and then make an impact for Europe as one of the team’s heavy hitters at Medinah.
Speaking in Boston ahead of the second FedEx Cup play-off event, the Deutsche Bank Championship, McIlroy said: “This will be my second [Ryder Cup]. I know there’s a lot of older guys than me that are going to be on the European team, but I feel like I’m in a position where I’d be one of the leaders of the team, and if I feel strongly about something, I’ll voice that.
“I think the big thing about the Ryder Cup is you have to be a good team member. You can’t be afraid to voice your opinion. If you really feel strongly about something in the team room, you’ve got to stand up and speak.
“And then it’s just being confident, [having] self‑belief, having a good attitude, because that’s what the Ryder Cup is all about. Match play is about having the right attitude going in and being confident.”
McIlroy missed the play-offs last year as he wasn’t a member of the PGA Tour. But having rejoined, he believes he’s in a far better place physically than two years ago and hopes to challenge for the FedEx Cup in the Tour Championship in Atlanta in a fortnight.
Feeling refreshed, McIlroy said: “I felt like I didn’t play much at the start of the year. I think the Masters was my sixth tournament, then took a couple weeks off, played Quail Hollow, TPC, took another‑‑ yeah, took a week off after that and went back to Wentworth and played.
“But then wasn’t playing great so decided to add Memphis in, as well, but I feel like I’ve paced myself a lot better this year, and that’s why I feel like I’m playing good golf at this time of the year.
“You want to pace yourself because you’ve obviously got the FedExCup but then the Ryder Cup, as well, which is a very long week, and it takes a lot out of you, not just the golf, but emotionally and all the things that you have to do at nighttime that go on at the Ryder Cup. It’s a long week, and it drains you, and you want to be 100 percent for that.
“I said at the start of this year I wouldn’t play any more than three in a row, but then that sort of changed when I wasn’t playing as well as I would have liked, so I added Memphis in. So I think I went Wentworth, Memorial, Memphis, U.S. Open, so that was four.
“Typically three in a row I feel is a good number for me. And yeah, it’s a long year, and physically it’s fine. You can play golf and you can travel and everything.
“But mentally and emotionally is where you get fatigued, I feel, and that’s something you just have to be careful of and wary of and really know yourself and know when you feel burned out and you need to take a break. Definitely more mental than physical at this time of the season.”
Ranked fourth in the FedEx Cup standings, McIlroy knows that a win this week would give him a great chance of winning the $10m top prize when he reappears in the Tour Championship at East Lake.
“It’s nice to be back here,” he said of his return to Boston. “It’s a course that I enjoyed. I think I shot 64 in the first round here the last time I played, so obviously I’ve played some good golf around here, and hopefully want to do more of the same this week.Excited to get going and in a great position in the Playoffs. A couple good weeks will set me up for a good run at it at the TOUR Championship.
The top 70 in the standings make it to next week’s BMW Championship which means that 32nd ranked Graeme McDowell and 47th ranked Padraig Harrington have little pressure this week.
The Dubliner is ranked second last on tour for putts inside five feet - Sergio Garcia is top. And he’s decided to focus on that area of his game knowing that a win this week would give him a chance of lifting the $10m top prize.
“I looked at my stats coming up in the car and my putting from inside six feet has been poor this year, so I decided that I would focus on this length for the week and see if I can improve,” Harrington said on his blog. “I have spent a lot of time working on my putting this week and very little on my long game as I am very happy with where my long game is at. I don’t feel the need to stand on the range and beat balls, as there is very little for me to work on.
“The most important area for me at the moment is my short game and within this my putting. While I missed a few putts last week I felt a lot better over them, so with the work I have done this week I am hopeful that there will be an improvement.
“I am looking to break my winless run this week and I have done well here before - I actually had a chance to win in 2009. I know that to have a chance to win the FedEx Cup I need to win this week or next, but failing that I need a good finish to get myself into the top 30 for the Tour Championship.
“I am feeling very good about my game and I know that I am playing well. If I can have a good week on the greens you never know what will happen.”