When it comes to players talking about Rory McIlroy, only Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley have come close to hitting the nail on the head. He’s more like Phil Mickelson than Tiger Woods. Or Nick Faldo.
Expecting the world No 2 to contend week-in, week-out might be something he expects of himself but the evidence points in the other direction.
Streaky has always been McIlroy’s middle name and we only have to look back to last season for the evidence.
Brilliant early on as he reach the Accenture Match Play final and then won the Honda Classic to go to world No 1, he missed four of five cuts in the spring before going on a magical run that included another eight-shot major win at the US PGA.
This year, following his move to Nike, he’s started erratically and played poorly since with a few exceptions. Naturally, the world has gone mad and everyone from Faldo to Johnny Miller has had something to say, mainly in reply to media questions.
Faldo points out that McIlroy made a dangerous move when he changed all his equipment in one go and is still testing clubs. And that;s true. In fact, McIlroy has a new, Nike Covert prototype driver in the bag this week. He’s also fiddled around with putters and left his management company in everything but the legal sense.
Asked if he had any advice for McIlroy, Faldo spoke about his own career experiences on Tuesday: “You need 100 percent concentration, off the golf course, practicing, as well.
“Most ideal I can think is to go to the club, 9:00 in the morning, hit balls all day long, and you leave at 5:00. And you think that was cool, that was great, what a lovely day I had. You’ve been really productive. You have to do that.”
It’s not so much the equipement change that bugs Faldo about McIlroy but the way he’s taken charge of his own management affairs.
“You have a window of opportunity. That’s my only words of wisdom to Rory. You have say 20-year window as an athlete. Concentrate on golf, nothing else. Hopefully when you retire, 40s, 50s, hopefully you have another 40 years to enjoy it. So just concentrate on golf.”
Miller blames McIlroy’s intense relationship with the tennis player Caroline Wozniacki and the new clubs for his relatively poor form so far this season - four top 10s, three missed cuts, a WD and one first round matchplay defeat from 13 starts.
But McIlroy does not like being told what to do, especially by former players who have no idea what he’s really up to most of the time or what plans he really has for his career.
“I saw what he said, and he said I should be at the course nine to five,” McIlroy said, somewhat testily. “I actually was on the range at 6:15, and got out of the gym at 6:15, actually a 12-hour day compared to his eight-hour day. It is what it is, and Nick should know how hard this game is at times. And he’s been in our position before. And he should know how much work that we all do put into it.”
Mark that one down as a win for McIlroy, who idolised Faldo as a kid and probably still admires him.
There’s no real conflict between them.
“Q. If you win on Sunday will you thank Nick Faldo from the “heart of your bottom” (laughter)?
RORY MCILROY: Maybe. No, Nick — these things can get — he probably said a million other things in that interview and he obviously said something about me, and that’s the thing that’s been picked up by everyone else. I know how these things go. I know he wasn’t trying to get on my case at all. He was just offering words of advice in some way. Yeah, as I said, I think he has to remember how hard this game can be at times.”
McIlroy sees the bigger picture and while some see his Nike change as a risk, he says he do the same thing again.
“There’s been times where it felt not too hard and I went on a great run from this point last year until the end of the season,” he said. “It’s like life. You’re going to go through highs and you’re going to go through lows. It’s just about trying to work your way out of the lows.
“Yeah, I haven’t played my best golf this year, but I’ve showed signs that it is there. It’s just a matter of trying to do that more often. It’s been difficult to try, I guess, and explain why I’m not playing well or why I haven’t had the results that I’ve wanted over the past six months.
“But I know that I’m working on the right things and I know that I’m doing the right things and I’m staying patient.
“I know sooner or later it will turn around and I’ll play the golf that everyone knows that I’m capable of and the golf that I know, that’s capable of winning major championships. Sooner or later it will turn around and I’ll be back lifting trophies.”
Like Woods, he tries to ignore the criticism.
“Tiger more than anyone else in this game, probably more than anyone else in sport, has been scrutinised and criticised throughout his entire career. He set the bar so high and that’s the expectations that everyone thought he was going to live up to.
“And it was only a couple of years ago that he had dropped outside the top 50 in the world. And he’s worked his way back up. And he’s now the best player in the world again.”
Unlike Faldo, and Woods, McIlroy has a life outside golf. He’s not obsessive about it.
“No, I could never — no, I’m not like that,” said the world No 2, who called himself Rory “Nick Faldo” McIlroy when he was a small child with a plastic club.
As for The Open, he’s certainly put in the work.
“I played 18 on Monday, the first week I played here. I played 27 Tuesday. And then I played 18 Sunday, 18 Monday, 18 yesterday and I’ll play nine today. So it’s a lot. It’s a lot of holes.”
It’s 108 holes to be precise.
What about the wind conditions and the new driver?
“I’ve played it in two different winds. I’ve played it in the west wind that it’s been the last few days. And I’ve played it in the east wind, which it was the first Monday that I was here. So I’ve played it in both winds, which I think is quite beneficial. And yeah I’ve got a new driver in the bag, which is slightly different than the one I have been using, it’s a different head shape. More of a pear shape, but it encourages the club face to close over a little bit more.”
Pear-shape? Not a good choice of words, but go on….
“My bad drive this year has been losing it to the right. So this is encouraging the club face to square up on impact and obviously I’m not getting that right shot anymore, which is a huge plus. And I’ll hit anywhere between five and seven drivers this week, depending on the wind. That’s pretty much it. Two on the front nine and three or four on the back nine, depending. If you get the 12th downwind in the east wind, some guys might go for the green there.”