Ryder Cup: Bullish McIlroy warns Americans: ‘Take me on at your peril’
THERE’S no bullseye on his back but Rory McIlroy is ready for the Americans to shoot at him at the Ryder Cup this week. The smiling world No 1 said: “Whoever wants to take me on, they can take me on…”
Watching him swinging in his chair in the giant interview room at Medinah is a reminder that he’s still a young whippersnapper. Yet, heading into only his second Ryder Cup appearance, the 23-year-old is undoubtedly the man in the sporting spotlight.
Earlier this year, after he’d missed three cuts in a row, including the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, it almost seemed as though early obituaries were being penned about McIlroy’s career.
That was a bit harsh, even if it was inevitable that McIlroy couldn’t possibly sustain the sort of form that had seen him land his first major, the US Open, in sensational fashion with an eight-shot victory at Congressional in 2011.
And so it has proved. In the last few weeks, McIlroy has produced some breathtaking golf. He won a second major, the USPGA Championship at Kiawah Island, by eight shots then claimed back-to-back victories in two of the FedEx Cup events.
According to Jose Maria Olazabal, the European Ryder Cup captain, McIlroy’s run of form has been just as impressive as the burst which Tiger Woods produced between 1999 and 2002, when he won an impressive seven majors.
It’s why there has been plenty of talk about the curly-haired Northern Irishman, who will be aiming to be on a second successive winning team in the biennial joust, having that target on his back.
But he said: “I don’t think I have a bullseye on my back, but it’s a huge compliment that people are saying they want to beat me.”
Two years ago, when McIlroy made his debut at Celtic Manor, he effectively flew in under the radar. He emerged with two points from his four matches, but it was his big buddy, Graeme McDowell, who grabbed the limelight by securing the winning point. Now, McIlroy is world No 1, the centre of attention for both the European and American media, the latter having almost become obsessed with him due to the fact most of McIlroy’s main successes so far have come in the States.
Asked if being the world’s best player brought added pressure, he replied: “No, not at all. This week I’m not the No 1 player in the world, I’m one person in a 12-man team and that’s it. It’s a team effort and I’m striving towards the same goal.”
McIlroy was also asked if being regarded as one of the leaders in the European team at such a young age had been earned through his CV or experience of playing in majors and events like the Ryder Cup.
“I think it’s a little bit of both, to be honest,” he replied. “I don’t think my role is a leader in the team room. I think it’s more out on the course, based on the way I’ve played the last couple of years.
“There are a lot more guys who have played more Ryder Cups than me and are more experienced in the team room than me so know when to speak up and have a different view of things. This is only my second Ryder Cup, so I’m still learning about it.”
As he was still cutting his teeth in the professional game, McIlroy once described the Ryder Cup as an “exhibition match”. He formed that view as a spectator, in fairness, and admitted he didn’t have to wait long to find out differently in Wales two years ago.
“It opened my eyes,” he declared, smiling once more. “I now realise that playing for your eleven other team-mates, your captain, your vice-captains, your country and your continent is a big deal. To me, the majors are still the biggest tournaments in golf and the tournaments that I want to win. But my perception about the Ryder Cup did change.
“I had been to Ryder Cups before and knew how special they are. But, until you are actually involved and you stand on that first tee on Friday morning with everyone screaming your name you don’t know how important it is for everyone.”
Massively popular among American golf fans, McIlroy is used to people screaming his name over here.
This week is totally different, though, to a PGA Tour event and the Europeans can expect a hot reception from the home fans.
“Hopefully I won’t get heckled but, if I do, there’s not much you can do,” said the man from Holywood near Belfast.
“They are going to cheer very loud for their team – you expect that. We’ve just got to stay calm and be focused on the golf.”
In his opening practice round on Tuesday, McIlroy was in the same group as Paul Lawrie and he paid tribute to the Scot, who has earned his place back in the European team 13 years after making his debut at Brookline.
“It’s been a great effort,” he said of that feat. “I played with him at the start of the year in Abu Dhabi and he played very well.
“He’s been very consistent and it would be great to see him play well here and get a few points for the team.”
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
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