The Open: McIlroy tackles Faldo and defends Rooney

World No 2 hit back at criticism, from Sir Nick Falso, ahead of his Open bid. Picture: SNS
World No 2 hit back at criticism, from Sir Nick Falso, ahead of his Open bid. Picture: SNS
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it’s rare for Rory McIlroy to criticise anybody but he fired a double whammy yesterday, firstly at Sir Nick Faldo for having the brass neck to criticise his dedication to golf, and secondly at David Moyes for his handling of the Wayne Rooney saga.

McIlroy is a Manchester United fan and a supporter of the unsettled and “confused” striker. Rooney, said the Northern Irishman, is being badly treated and doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone at Old Trafford, his new manager included.

Rory McIlroy. Picture: Jane Barlow

Rory McIlroy. Picture: Jane Barlow

Faldo might be a knight of the realm but he was reduced to the ranks of a court jester by McIlroy who accused the six-times major winner of being out of touch and ignorant about how hard he is working to get his game back on track.

On Monday, Faldo hypothesised about what is ailing the world No 2 on the course, saying there was a lot going on in the Northern Irishman’s mind and that his concentration had lapsed. Faldo, twice a winner of the Open here at Muirfield, advised McIlroy to focus on his game from 9am to 5pm and concentrate on golf – “and nothing else”.

McIlroy was clearly bothered by what Faldo had to say. “I saw what he said. He said I should be at the course from nine to five. I was actually on the range at 6.15am and got out of the gym at 6.15pm; a 12-hour day compared to his eight-hour day. Nick should know how hard this game is at times. He’s been in our position before and he should know how much work that we all put into it.”

His tone was one of hurt rather than one of fury, later turning to gently mocking humour when asked, in the event of him winning on Sunday, would he consider thanking Faldo from the “heart of his bottom”, a reference to Faldo taking the Claret Jug at Muirfield in 1992 then jibing with the media in his victory speech. “Maybe,” smiled McIlroy. “No,” he added. “He [Faldo] probably said a million other things in that interview and he obviously said something about me and that’s the thing that’s being picked up by everyone. I know how these things go. I know he wasn’t trying to get on my case. He was just offering words of advice in some way. I think he has to remember how hard this game can be.”

For McIlroy, the game is pretty hard right now. Since changing his golf equipment to Nike, he has lost the magic that made him a double major winner. No victories either in Europe or America, out in the first round of the WGC Accenture Match Play to Shane Lowry and only four top-ten finishes in seven months. He has missed the cut in Abu Dhabi, Wentworth and at the Irish Open at Carton House. In the first two majors of the season he finished 25th at Augusta and 41st at Merion. By his exalted standards it has been a horrendous run. Wherever you go this week at Muirfield there are two topics being discussed; the gender issue and the Rory issue.

And, of course, there is the Rooney issue. McIlroy is a Manchester United supporter and, as such, he was asked about Rooney’s plight at Old Trafford, the will-he-stay or will-he-go saga that is dominating David Moyes’ first days as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor.

McIlroy made no secret about where his loyalties lay, praising Rooney and saying he understands why the player feels confused about his status at the club right now.

“If I was Wayne, I would be very confused, too. He’s had nine great seasons at Man United and reading between the lines of what’s being said I don’t think he needs to prove himself to anyone. I don’t think he needs to prove himself to the new manager. I don’t think he should be playing second fiddle to [Robin] Van Persie.

“He just wants to play football. He’s that sort of player. He just wants to get on the pitch and show what he can do and if he doesn’t feel he can do that at United, he’ll obviously want to go elsewhere. I think that’s very understandable.

“He’s been a great player and a very loyal player for Man United and I guess if I was him I’d probably be in the same position. So I hope it gets sorted quickly and he stays at Old Trafford.”