McIlroy can rest easy — Tiger hype will always ease the burden

McIlroy can rest easy — Tiger hype will always ease the burden

Until Tiger Woods is wheeled away on a hospital gurney, never to be seen again, or possibly when he's won 15 majors, Rory McIlroy need not worry about beng forced to bear the burden of being the golf's poster boy.

With question marks over his participation in the US PGA following his withdrawl with injury in Akron, Woods only had to turn up at Vahalla on Wednesday and don his golf shoes in the car park to utterly dominate TV coverage in the US.

It was an OJ Simpson-eqsque example of overhype, as one commentor put it when listening to Golf Channel's blanket coverage of Woods resurrection.

Injured or healthy, it doesn't take much from Tiger to reduce the McIlroy noise to a faint hum. And that's probably no bad thing. As he's always said, he's the first Rory McIlroy and not the next Tiger Woods.

Having put his hand up and said he wants to be the next dominant player and then gone straight out and pulled on the tights and the cloak with his wins in the BMW PGA, the Open and the Bridgestone Invitational to become world NO 1 again, the 25-year old from Holywood must now deal with being annointed as the chosen one by Jack Nicklaus, who says he's capable of winning 15 to 20 majors.

"It depends on what he feels his priorities are – and that's his call – but I think Rory has an opportunity to win 15 or 20 Majors or whatever he wants to do if he wants to keep playing," the Golden Bear said on the Mike and Mike radio show this week. "Yet you just don't know what the guy's priorities are going to be in life 10 years from now." 

Nicklaus' record in the Nostradumus stakes is not quite perfect.

"There isn't a flaw in his golf or his makeup," he said of a young player several years ago. "He will win more majors than Arnold Palmer and me combined. Somebody is going to dust my records. It might as well be Tiger, because he's such a great kid."

McIlroy now appears destined to walk in Nicklaus' giant footsteps and yet he's already aware of the dangers of getting caught up in the hype.

"Sometimes I feel that people are too quick to jump to conclusions and jump on the bandwagon and jump on certain things,” said McIlroy this week. 

With Colin Montgomerie saying he can't see anyone but Rory win the US PGA if he produces his A game, McIlroy is acutely aware of the level of expectation.

"I just need to continue to practice hard and play well, and if I do that, then you know, that's all I can do and try not to read too much of the stuff that's being written, because if you read everything that was being written, I'd turn up at the first tee on Thursday thinking I'd already won the tournament."

If Rory McIlroy could write the script for a major it would run somehing like this: 

  • The golf course must be soft and long and require great driving. Check.
  • I must come into the event in great form. Check.
  • It would be preferable if Tiger wasn't playing well. Check

And yet he spoke more about his mental state as the key to it all, which is a hugely positive sign going forward for a player who never appeared to put much store in the mental side of the game (or at least, in psychologists).

"I mean, people can talk about my driving or how I'm swinging the club, but mentally, I just feel like I'm in a really good place, and I think that's what I'm really happy about."

Still, there are a few more scenarios to be played out at Valhalla, where Europe lost the Ryder Cup in 2008 because of a poor captaincy by Nick Faldo and the tactical nous of Paul Azinger, who got the very most out of his squad and the golf course.

Paul McGinley spoke about his wildcards yesterday and intimated that he hadn't told Ian Poulter he was a guaranteed pick.

As things stand following the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, McIlroy, Victor Dubuisson, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Thomas Bjorn, Graeme McDowell and Jamie Donaldson hold down the nine automatic spots with Luke Donald, Poulter, Stephen Gallacher, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Francesco Molinari, Joost Luiten and Lee Westwood all capable of making a move over the next month.

Donald is less than one world ranking points — a negligible number — outside the team behind McDowell and Donaldson in the world points list.

But judging by McGinley's comments in Louisille yesterday, he's not overly concerned about the wildcards.

"I certainly have not told Ian Poulter he's going to be a pick.  He knows that," McGinley said. He then added: "He's not a huge worry for me because his form has been quite good and he's amassed a huge amount of points."

Shane Lowry has the game to contend at Valhalla but as McGinley pointed out, he'll have to do something exceptional to put himself in the wildcard conversation, unless he wins the US PGA.

"He seems to be the man for the big occasion and he needs a big performance this week to put himself really on the top of the radar.  At the moment he's on the radar, but if he wants to push himself to the forefront of that, it's going to be a big week for him this week."