McGinley keen to see McIlroy stand up to Koepka: "He shouldn't be intimidated"

McGinley keen to see McIlroy stand up to Koepka: "He shouldn't be intimidated"
Brooks Koepka hits his tee shot on the second during the first round of the 101st PGA Championship held at Bethpage Black Golf Course on May 16, 2019 in Farmingdale, New York. (Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America)

Brooks Koepka hits his tee shot on the second during the first round of the 101st PGA Championship held at Bethpage Black Golf Course on May 16, 2019 in Farmingdale, New York. (Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America)

Hindsight is 20-20, but Paul McGinley is not convinced that Rory McIlroy is the man who has the patience and the discipline to win the US Open and his fifth major at Pebble Beach this week.

McIlroy's ears must have been burning on Friday, 48 hours before Sunday's incredible closing 61, when the 2014 Ryder Cup skipper took part in a US Open teleconference for Sky Sports and lamented the Holywood star's recent inability to find that extra gear of old.

"I've been saying regularly that his game is as good as I've ever seen him play the game in the last six months and what he's put into his game that he didn't have in the past, even when he was at his best, was consistency," McGinley said.

"He's got a lot of consistency in his performances now. He used to be hot or cold and what he needs to get back is a little bit more of the hot and cold player…

"Early in his career he had that ability to go into overdrive, and we haven't seen that from him. Even when he won The Players this year it wasn't an overdrive performance, he's not blowing the field away the way he used to."

McIlroy has made a habit of proving people wrong over the years, but whatever about his brilliance in Canada, Hamilton Golf and Country Club is not Pebble Beach, and it's unlikely that anyone will go into overdrive the way Tiger Woods did in 2000 when he won by 15 shots.

For McGinley, the challenge for McIlroy is not only the technical test but the weight of expectation on his shoulders and he pointed to confidence as the key, which could well give the Co Down man the fuel to overcome the pressure and put down a marker from round one, just as Brooks Koepka did in the US PGA with that opening 63.

"Every time he tees it up, he is expected to perform and play well," McGinley said." It's not only Rory who falls under that expectation, everybody does, and that's what makes Tiger Woods so special that he kept on going forward with this huge expectation and being the guy to beat.

"That's why I'm really interested to see where Brooks Koepka goes now that he's got to the top of the tree. Is he going to stay as focussed and as driven with the chip on his shoulder the way he has done in the last couple of years?

"Or is he going to find the weight of expectation difficult. So these next few Major championships is going to tell us a lot about Brooks Koepka.

"But there's no doubt that Rory suffers from that expectation - and probably internal expectation from himself as well. He knows he's better than nearly everybody in the game and that brings a lot of pressure.

Paul McGinley is a Sky Sports analyst and will be providing commentary on 119th US Open at Pebble Beach in California. All four days of action will be shown live and exclusively on Sky Sports.

Paul McGinley is a Sky Sports analyst and will be providing commentary on 119th US Open at Pebble Beach in California. All four days of action will be shown live and exclusively on Sky Sports.

"Rory is like everybody else, it's about confidence. He's an inspirational player and of all the players in the game he's probably the one who is most influenced by being confident or not, and that comes from performances."

Getting off to a good start is crucial for McIlroy, who has played 17 majors since he captured his fourth in 2014 and broken 70 in just three of his opening rounds, averaging 72.05.

In contrast, Koepka has won four of his last eight majors, averaging 68.12 in round one (70.35 for his last 17 opening rounds).

"He knows he's going to be defined by how many Majors he wins and that adds a lot of pressure," McGinley said. "But all the guys face that and that's what made Woods so great that he was able to embrace that expectation on his shoulders.

"If Rory can approach the first two rounds with the mindset he showed in rounds three and four of the first two Majors this year, then look out.

"But to be quite honest it's not a Rory McIlroy golf course, it's not a golf course that's going to give him a big advantage. He's going to have to play really well to contend around here - and historically he's never played well on really tough golf courses.

"Even the US Open that he won, he did so with 16-under par. So it's going to be tough for him but if he goes with four wedges that's a pretty good strategy.

"He'll figure all that out but if he can take advantage of the short irons, he'll have a chance. This golf course is very short, but that doesn't mean it's easy.

"Your distance control has to be spot on, same goes for you spin control, and you've also got to control the trajectory in the wind."

For McGinley, the controversies over the course set up have been blown out of all proportion, and he's expecting another mental test from the USGA, which will play into Woods' hands.

"I'm a lot more moderate on all the controversies, to be honest," he said. "The US Open has always been the toughest of the four majors, it's always been a mental test as much as a physical one, frustration is something you have to deal with, unfairness is something you have to deal with, and the winning score is normally around par.

"These are all the words of Jack Nicklaus, and I think he's right. It is a real stern test physically and mentally, and the reason why it's so tough mentally is that you know standing on the tee box that if i miss this fairway i am going to be in the jungle and it's going to cost me at least half a shot, probably a shot.

"That puts a lot of pressure on your shots, and that's always been the test, that's what distinguished the US Open from the other majors.

"I know at Shinnecock they tricked up a couple of pin positions on the Saturday, but the scoring was 63 and 64 on the Sunday because they over-reacted to the players complaining about it. I think it's a time to hold firm, it is a very difficult test, it always should be."

He's fascinated to see how Koepka performs given the way he blew an underprepared Woods away at Bethpage Black and believes it's now McIlroy's turn to stand up to Koepka and puff out his chest.

"He shouldn't be intimidated, it should have the opposite effect. He (Koepka) is displaying exactly what I'm saying, he's got pointy elbows, there's no doubt about that. You look at that guy's body language, you look at the marker he put down against Tiger Woods in the first two rounds in the US PGA, this guy has a chip on his shoulder, this guy is on a mission.

Rory McIlroy, Erica Stoll, Erica Herman and Tiger Woods pose for a photo during the Champion’s Dinner for the 101st PGA Championship held at Bethpage Black Golf Course on May 14, 2019 in Farmingdale, New York. (Photo by Montana Pritchard/PGA of America)

Rory McIlroy, Erica Stoll, Erica Herman and Tiger Woods pose for a photo during the Champion’s Dinner for the 101st PGA Championship held at Bethpage Black Golf Course on May 14, 2019 in Farmingdale, New York. (Photo by Montana Pritchard/PGA of America)

"He's got a drive, he's got a focus, a determination about him and he's relentless. I really admire him, I have to say. Of all the players in the game at the moment he is the one I admire the most. Not because he's winning majors, but because he looks to be mentally different than the rest.

"He seems to have an ability to get hyper-focused and push those other guys out the way. That's what Nicklaus had, that's what Woods had, that chip on the shoulder kind of attitude and I really love watching him playing.

"I'm going to be very interested now that he's won four majors and reached the very top echelon, he could start to look around about him. It will be interesting to see how he handles this mantle and hopefully he's going to keep this attitude going forward of 'get out of my way, here I come'."

A for Woods, he's expecting big things.

"I think we're going to see the Tiger Woods from the Masters for two reasons," he said. "Firstly, I think he's got over the hangover of winning a Major championship again. He didn't play a lot of golf between that and the PGA. He was probably under-prepared. Certainly he was competitively. I don't know what he was doing in his personal practice.

"The big determining factor for me is that the golf course is really going to suit the style of play that he has at the moment.

"He is a ball control player who is able to shape it at will, both right-to-left and left-to-right. He is able to get his trajectories high and low, which is going to be important in the wind.

"And a lot of these greens at Pebble Beach are sloped from back to front and a lot of them are very small, so going in there and taking spin off shots - so you're not back-spinning it down the green or hitting it through the wind and going over the back where you're dead - is critical.

"So I think it's really going to suit the style of golf that Woods is playing at the moment, there's not many better iron players in the game who are as good as Tiger right now.

"He showed a bit of form last week at The Memorial, and I think he's gearing up for a really strong performance next week at Pebble."

"If Brooks Koepka wins around this test we have to look at this guy as being something very special because, unlike Bethpage, there's a lot of guys capable of winning at Pebble.

"For example Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk - those style of players who hit a lot of fairways and greens and have very good distance control. These consistent players are going to be in the equation who weren't in the picture at Bethpage because of the course set-up.

"It brings a lot more people into and plays away from the power hitters.

Rory McIlroy plays from the rough during the first round of the 101st PGA Championship. Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America

Rory McIlroy plays from the rough during the first round of the 101st PGA Championship. Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America

"The likes of Dustin Johnson, Rory and Koepka don't have as much of an advantage here as they did at Bethpage."

As for Shane Lowry, who was second to Johnson at Oakmont in 2016, he's got high hopes.

"He's an underrated player because he's kind of in the shadow of Rory in Ireland and doesn't get the credit for how good a player he is," he said. "There's no weakness in Shane's game. He hits the ball a long way, drives it very well and is a strong iron player and chipper.

"His putting comes and goes a little bit, but in general it's good, and he's got the guile to win when he gets in contention - as he did in Abu Dhabi, at Firestone and he won when he was an amateur too.

"So he is the full package and it's now a matter of getting focussed, getting in contention and being patient. The US Open is a lot about patience.

"No matter who you are - from the shortest hitter in the field to the biggest, probably Rory - they are all going to be playing same way this time.

"There's ten holes at Pebble where every player in the field will be hitting wedge or nine iron or less into the green.

"This is not a big golf course, it's just over 7000 yards which is short by modern standards. This is a very different test to what the guys faced at Bethpage a few weeks ago."