The four-time major winner briefly broke off from talking about his Omega Dubai Desert Classic title defence, which starts today at the Emirates Golf Club, to deliver a personal assessment of Murray after the Scot’s Australian Open final defeat by Novak Djokovic last weekend.
“You’re not going to find a more driven, more dedicated professional athlete in the world than Andy Murray,” declared world No 2 McIlroy of his equivalent in tennis. “He does absolutely everything in his power to get the most out of his game. He’s been Wimbledon champion, US Open champion and Olympic champion. He’s one of the best British sports people ever in my opinion.”
In addition to his two Grand Slam titles, Murray has also been runner-up in seven other singles finals, losing three to Federer and four to Djokovic. “He’s been unlucky,” added McIlroy. “He’s come up in an era with Roger to start, Rafa [Nadal] and now Novak. And Novak looks like he could potentially be better than all of them. He could win more Grand Slams than Roger and could ultimately be the best ever.
“Just to compete with that and come up against that the whole time, it must be tough mentally [for Murray]. But, at the same time, he’s the second best in the world at what he does, and he’s already proven that he can win at the highest level. I’m sure he’ll continue to.”
Unlike Murray, McIlroy’s career has largely been played out at a time when golf’s long-time world No 1, Tiger Woods, has seen his game slip into in gradual decline.
Indeed, it remains to be seen when the 14-time major winner will return from a lay-off brought about by recent back
“Hopefully he can get healthy as I would still love to have a crack at him down the stretch in a major,” admitted McIlroy.
“Competition brings the best out of me and I think Phil [Mickelson] feels the same. Maybe if Phil didn’t go up against Tiger in his prime, he would have won more majors. But he always said that Tiger brought out the best in him.”
McIlroy will have some stiff competition to retain his crown in Dubai this week, with the likes of Henrik Stenson, Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer among his title rivals on the Majlis Course.
The 26-year-old finished tied third in his season-opener at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship 11 days ago and since then has been working hard on his game in the United Arab Emirates.
“I’m hoping you will see my game just a touch sharper this week,” he said.